Director Kitty Green's film, with an award-worthy performance by Garner, is a piercing look at how women in the entertainment industry witness and experience sexual coercion and harassment. Green and Garner are a powerful team. The camera's close-ups of Garner's expressive, evocative movements and gestures show exactly how conflicted and concerned Jane is about her job. She endures tiny indignities all day long because she believes the unwritten promise that, with the big boss's recommendation and favor, she'll eventually move forward from her entry-level job and launch into a behind-the-scenes film career. But the cost, as everyone at the production studio tacitly understands, is complicity in the boss's sexually predatory activities.
Green never shows viewers the boss, although he's heard ranting, and his presence is felt, quite ominously, in every scene. Your imagination fills in the blanks (if it's not exactly Harvey Weinstein, it's surely someone Weinstein-esque). Despite never being seen, the boss looms large in the way every character refers to him (from his wife's acid-tongued "where is he?" and "who is he with?" to an enabling veteran employee's "you're not his type" and another's resigned "is he in?"). The tense conversation between Jane and the HR rep, so perfectly played by Macfadyen, is brilliantly directed. At first it seems like there may be a miniscule chance he understands, but eventually the truth is revealed, and he turns on her, too -- dismissing and humiliating Jane with back-handed compliments about the future she'll give up if she speaks out against the proverbial "him." The Assistant is ultimately an intelligent, insightful look at the far-reaching way in which influential men subjugate and disempower women.