Julia Garner stars as a secretary in the office of a Harvey Weinstein-like predator in “The Assistant.” (Bleecker Street)

Julia Garner stars as a secretary in the office of a Harvey Weinstein-like predator in “The Assistant.” (Bleecker Street)

We never see the monster, and ‘The Assistant’ is better for it

It’s an ingenious strategy for telling a story about the toxic effect of one Weinstein-like person.

He is powerful, he is talked-about, he dictates everything that happens in “The Assistant.” He has created the toxic atmosphere that permeates every corner of the film.

And yet, he is never named, or even seen.

“He” is a Harvey Weinstein-like Hollywood producer, the much-feared lord of a production company. In “The Assistant,” we see his influence through the eyes of a secretary in his office, a young woman who survives a single stressful day in the orbit of this monster-mogul.

Jane (Julia Garner) occupies a very low rung on the ladder, yet sits outside the door of the man himself. She makes copies, she orders lunch, she books flights. And periodically she takes calls from the boss’s wife, during which Jane lies about where the boss is.

Jane herself is not being sexually harassed. “You’re not his type,” someone tells her. Helpful.

But on this day, she becomes concerned about a wide-eyed young movie hopeful from Idaho. This young woman has been flown in at the boss’s expense, put up at a fancy hotel, and will be visited by him in her room.

The queasy atmosphere of “The Assistant” is at its peak with this development. And yet the film, written and directed by Kitty Green, never speaks above a murmur. You get the feeling the boss’s influence is so pervasive, nobody dares raise their voice.

Green’s idea to leave the mogul off the screen — a brilliant concept — forces us to concentrate more intently on the effect of someone like this. People in the office communicate with eye rolls and tiny offers of advice, although the idea of sticking one’s neck out for a co-worker doesn’t fly in this fear-based unit.

At the heart of the film is a mesmerizing scene when Jane visits an HR manager (the excellent Matthew Macfadyen, Mr. Darcy in the 2005 “Pride & Prejudice”). He hears her concerns, and — with reassuring smile firmly pasted to his face — lets her understand that her career would be over if she ever said anything against the man in charge.

All of this is filtered through the carefully underplayed performance by Julia Garner (from TV’s “The Americans”). Her quiet presence makes Jane’s eventual plea to the HR guy seem like an explosion of nerve.

It’s hard to believe her wish to someday be a producer, because she doesn’t seem to have the oomph for it, or the fierceness. But maybe we don’t see those qualities because Jane has already been defeated — worn down by the dispiriting job of cleaning up the boss’s office after his liaisons and pretending not to notice when women go behind those doors for long meetings.

There will and should be movies made about Weinstein types, but “The Assistant” does something more interesting. By leaving that character out entirely, it gives us a clearer picture of the damage left in his wake. In this approach, his absence speaks volumes.

“The Assistant” (3½ stars)

A film about a Harvey Weinstein-like predator who never actually appears onscreen. We see the story through the eyes of a secretary (Julia Garner) who works in a production office where the boss’s habits have infected the entire place. It’s an ingenious strategy for telling a story about the toxic effect of one person. With Matthew Macfadyen.

Rating: R, for language, subject matter

Opening Friday: Pacific Place

Talk to us

More in Life

Cinderella_Red.jpg: Red Riding Hood (Katelynn Carlson) gets advice from Cinderella (Grace Helmcke) in Red Curtain’s production of Into the Woods, running May 20-June 5 at the Red Curtain Arts Center, 9315 State Ave. in Marysville.
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Marysville troupe stages a Stephen Sondheim musical masterpiece. Jazz, featuring the sons of legend Dave Brubeck, takes over Edmonds. And there’s this music festival in downtown Everett …

Sam Bowles records the run off the water from a chalk drawing with friend and co-artist, Rhyanna Mercer, Tuesday afternoon in Everett, Washington on May 10, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Jackson High’s global TikTok star is chalk full of ideas

Sam Bowles, 18, uses vibrant videos and social media fame to raise awareness of autism.

Lonicera ciliosa, commonly called orange honeysuckle or western trumpet vine. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: orange honeysuckle

Its orange trumpets announce spring is here, and hummingbirds are irresistibly drawn to it.

Home & garden happenings in Snohomish County

The Mill Creek Garden Tour will return this summer after a two-year absence due to COVID-19.

Photo Caption: Would you believe a zipper sold for $18,450 at Morphy Auctions? What about a diamond necklace that looks and works like a zipper?
X-Y-Z spells ‘big money’ with this high-fashion zipper

It’s actually a necklace, but the zipper function works. Someone paid nearly $18,500 for it at a recent auction.

The signature retro VW bus is on display at the Lamb & Co. home decor store Saturday afternoon in Snohomish, Washington on January 8, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
This Snohomish store has the goods from HGTV’s ‘Unsellable House’

Take home the design and decor savvy of hometown real estate twins Lyndsay Lamb and Leslie Davis.

The 2022 Infiniti QX60 Sensory has seating for seven. Heated outboard second-row seats and power-return third-row seats are standard equipment. (Manufacturer photo)
Infiniti QX60 Sensory model doesn’t play second fiddle

The new Autograph version tops the 2022 lineup, but this previous headliner holds its own.

Caption: Originally published in The Weekly Herald, “I Brake for Moms” has been running for ten years.
Ten years of columns later, a celebration of place, journalism

Jennifer Bardsley reflects on writing 520 installments of “I Brake for Moms.”

Joel Smallbone, left, and Luke Smallbone, right, of the group for King & Country, performs during the Dove Awards on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

The award-winning Christian pop duo For King & Country performs in Everett on Saturday.

Most Read