It seems to me the biggest challenge facing the promoters of Untouchable, the stylishly icky Hulu documentary about former Hollywood career-maker/breaker Harvey Weinstein, is getting anyone with an Y chromosome to watch it.
Forgive me, men, but I’m guessing a lot of you made a mental note to read a review like this one and call it good. I know if I weren’t actually writing this review, I might be tempted to let someone watch Untouchable for me. Unlike most women, I’ve never been sexually harassed at work (by which I mean a superior offers you this choice: your body or your job). Most guys reading this haven’t either.
Maybe you read the New York Times and New Yorker accounts in 2017 that credibly accused Weinstein of forcing himself on more than 100 women and then aggressively enforcing a culture of silence around his crimes. I read those stories, and now the man who was responsible for that image of Uma Thurman taking a needle to the heart in Pulp Fiction is himself indelibly etched in my mind as a pantsless villain in a scene I can’t unsee.
Given that, did I really need another 90 minutes of victims recounting, moment by moment, that time that Harvey Weinstein destroyed them? Well, yes, for two reasons.
First, director Ursula Macfarlane and her team (which includes production partner BBC) have crafted a very fine documentary that did not have me squirming in my seat ... most of the time.
Second, Untouchable is actually not as concerned with detailing the horrible things Harvey Weinstein did to his victims (though there is that) as it is about dissecting the culture that enabled and emboldened him. Brick by brick, Weinstein was allowed to build a legal fortress around his moviemaking empire, inside which he could do whatever he wanted with zero consequences. His is a uniquely Hollywood story, and yet it can — and does — happen anywhere an unscrupulous boss realizes his employees need him more than he needs them.
Several attacks are recounted here in heartbreaking detail. At one point, three victims give their testimonies in parallel, so viewers can see how chillingly similar their stories are, the frequency and consistency with which Weinstein is able to get what he wants. One of them, Nannette Klatt, recalls stumbling into the lobby of the hotel where she has just been attacked. She is startled to hear a maintenance man ask her, “Are you coming from the fourth floor?” (Weinstein’s suite.)
But most of Untouchable is devoted, as it should be, to understanding how this high-profile sexual predator was able to attack women with impunity for nearly 40 years.
It helped Harvey that he was a walking cash machine. His peerless ability to spot the next cinematic sensation led Miramax and The Weinstein Company, the studios he founded with his brother Bob, to the Oscars podium year after year.
Also helpful were his charm and his connections. Zelda Perkins, an executive in Miramax’s London office, says Harvey “created an energy around him that made you feel like you were the center of the universe.” Of course, making needy young women feel noticed and appreciated is also an excellent grooming strategy.
His mood could swing to volcanic temper tantrums, throwing ashtrays and the like. “Harvey at his worst was a monster you didn’t want to cross,” says a Miramax veteran. And yet, as more than one actress interviewed here attests, Harvey at his best was even more greatly to be feared. He enchanted women at parties, brought them to dinner with De Niro and DiCaprio, and only then did he get them alone and make his self-pleasure the condition of staying on. Just in case his mark was thinking of saying no, Weinstein made sure she understood that he was, in his words, “the f-----g sheriff” — a law unto himself.
In the future, when I hear someone say an actress “slept her way to that role,” I’ll remember what Paz De La Huerta, who says Weinstein raped her on two occasions, says here: “I was intimidated by him and his power. I mean, he’s a repulsive man physically, but I saw these other actresses hanging around him. So I felt like that was something you did.”
Where was the media while all this was going on? Right there, hovering near Weinstein at his epoch-defining Oscar parties, lavishing praise on his golden touch. Every now and then a reporter would begin sniffing around the edges, but Team Harvey would quickly meet the threat with an avalanche of lawyers, flak-catchers, and even shady private investigators (including ex-Mossad agents). And so, while Weinstein’s sexual appetites were the butt of in-jokes for over a decade, the more sinister possibility — that the sex, despite what Weinstein and his lawyers have insisted over and over, was not “consensual” — remained unpursued.
A fair amount of Untouchable is devoted to Weinstein’s efforts to suppress the media, and to the reporting that ultimately did him in. But that part feels like a red herring. It is true that the reporters who finally got the story showed doggedness and compassion. But it is also true that the NYPD finally took one of Weinstein’s victims seriously, and that others were suddenly coming forward, perhaps emboldened by the favorable reception given to Bill Cosby’s accusers. In the end, Weinstein was caught because a culture change happened.
How great is that culture change? How lasting? Men, raise your hand if you think #metoo has gone too far and that we’re the real victims. (Really?) Macfarlane must have her doubts, because she ends her film with this warning from The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow: “There are people who are still vastly powerful and around whom people are terrified to tell the truth.”
It would be easy for Untouchable to dwell on the monstrous behavior of one person, but instead it continually reminds us that Weinstein was one of the most surrounded persons on the planet. Many people in his orbit could have checked his power and spoken the truth about how he abused that power so egregiously.
The uncomfortable feeling I had at the end of Untouchable was from asking myself: If it had been me — a man breathing in the rarefied manly air of Harvey Weinstein — what would I have done?
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Aaron Barnhart has written about television since 1994, including 15 years as TV critic for the Kansas City Star. Sign up to get all his Primetimer reviews at tvbarn.com.