‘Untouchable’ Review: Harvey Weinstein Documentary Rehashes a Story You Already Know All Too Well — Sundance

Ursula Macfarlane's Weinstein doc includes some powerful victim testimony, but it offers little of its own insight into a familiar scandal.
A still from Untouchable by Ursula Macfarlane, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Barbara Alper/Getty ImagesAll photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.
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There’s a reason why you’ve probably never heard of Erika Rosenbaum. An attractive, intelligent, and ostensibly talented Canadian actress who stepped off the bus in Los Angeles with nothing but a dream to her name, Rosenbaum was no less prepared or deserving than any of the legendary screen idols who had inspired her to reach for the stars. Lana Turner was famously discovered at a malt shop, so why not her? Twenty years later, Rosenbaum’s most prestigious role to date is Bartocci Customer #2 in “Brooklyn.” Before that, she was Pregnant Mom in “The Smurfs 2” and Cashier in a TV movie called “Abducted: Fugitive for Love.” But while it’s true that a prayer and a pretty smile aren’t enough to guarantee a successful career in show business, there’s reason to believe that she never had a fair shot at having one.

It all goes back to a single decision she made when she first got to Hollywood, and lucked into a meeting with the kind of man who had the power to put her on top of the world. His name was Harvey Weinstein, and Erika Rosenbaum refused to have sex with him. And that was that. Until, that is, she had another encounter with him in a Toronto hotel room some 10 years later, the details of which are too horrifying and surreal to paraphrase in print. Now, thanks to a new documentary about the culture of entitlement and intimidation that Weinstein fostered and fed upon for so many years, Rosenbaum finally has a major role in a feature-length film, though it’s not the one she had in mind when she traded Quebec for Tinseltown.

Her testimony — along with that of the other Weinstein victims brave enough to tell their stories on camera, including Rosanna Arquette and Paz de la Huerta — is far and away the most valuable aspect of Ursula Macfarlane’s (“One Deadly Weekend in America”) latest project. These women, who include the very first person who Weinstein hired at Miramax back in 1978, provide lucid and powerful answers to the question of how Weinstein got away with it for so long, and explicate in excruciating detail why coercion is worlds apart from consent.

As you might imagine, it’s difficult to dismiss any film that inspires them to do so, and if Macfarlane were more willing to hear them out, perhaps “Untouchable” would be a worthy vessel for what they have to say. Alas, this slapdash and largely unilluminating look back at the birth of the #MeToo movement is so eager to rehash the basic details of an ongoing story that every human who would conceiveably watch the film already knows by heart that Macfarlane interferes with her interviewees’ best efforts to add something to it.

Harvey Weinstein, someone astutely observers towards the end of the film, was merely the most fatal symptom of a toxic system in which powerful men are protected from all manner of sins (the past tense feels appropriate given that everyone in “Untouchable” talks about Weinstein as though he’s already dead). And yet, this doc is eager to treat the disgraced mogul as though he were the disease itself. Like so many of Weinstein’s victims and employees, Macfarlane can’t seem to escape his gravitational pull. As much as her movie purports to address the social environment that empowers these monsters, it’s so enamored by this one infamous ghoul that it fails to meaningfully contextualize his crimes.

Instead, Macfarlane inexplicably stitches the interview portions together with useless slow-motion footage of joggers in Los Angeles and cars driving through Manhattan. Drone shots — which broadcast a palpable modernity in the way they move — are used to evoke work trips that Weinstein took in the late ’90s. A climactic reference to “Wonder Woman” is completely undercut by a gratuitous excerpt of Gal Gadot arming herself with a magical sword. On their own, the film’s visual failures are more of a nuisance than anything else. Together, they reinforce the feeling that “Untouchable” is unsure of what it has to say, and why it had to be said before the world has stopped reeling from the Weinstein scandal.

When the documentary focuses on Weinstein’s victims and former colleagues (many of whom are still wrestling with their passive complicity in his crimes), it flickers with the urgency of an alarm clock. When the documentary reiterates the process by which two earth-shaking stories finally nailed him to the wall, it feels as if it’s coasting off the fumes of the suspense generated by someone else’s journalism. There’s a fine line between immediacy and redundancy, and while the intentions of Macfarlane’s film are beyond reproach, the execution has a way of muddying the water.

There is precious little here that hasn’t already been more cogently unpacked somewhere else. You already know about the massages, the hotel room tricks, and the pathological thirst for power. You already know that Weinstein used his power as both a cudgel and a shield, and that his downfall was inevitable as soon as his industry stature began to wain. It’s the personal testimonies that lend this film its purpose, but Macfarlane uses them to serve Weinstein’s story, when it really ought to be the other way around.

Grade: C

“Untouchable” premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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