We’ve seen a plethora of documentaries based on podcasts, but in the case of HBO’s six-part series “Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes,” the documentary IS essentially a filmed version of a podcast. And while that might sound like dull and flat television, this is a well-filmed and fascinating and consistently effective effort giving added dimension to the crusading, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ronan Farrow’s interviews with the survivors, the whistleblowers, the journalists, the private investigators and others who were key players in Farrow’s epic takedown of the predatory Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Farrow is movie-star handsome and has a low-key, empathetic interviewing style, but there’s no mistaking his dogged determination to air the horrific truth about Weinstein, who had managed to avoid public scandal and prosecution even though his alleged crimes were an open secret in the entertainment community not for years, but for decades.
Episode 1, titled “The Wire,” kicks off with the infamous exchange in the hallway of a New York City hotel in 2015 between Weinstein and Filipina-Italian model Ambra Gutierrez, who is wearing a wire at the behest of the NYPD after she reported Weinstein had assaulted her the day before. “You must come here now,” pleads Weinstein in his creepy growl. “Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes.”
We begin to cut back and forth between archival photos and footage of Weinstein, audio tapes, illustrations and establishing shots of the streets of New York City, and clips of Farrow interviewing Gutierrez for his podcast in 2019. (The podcast interviews showcased in this series took place in 2019 and 2020.) Even though Weinstein was caught on tape admitting he had groped Gutierrez, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office eventually declined to press charges and it appeared the tape would never be heard publicly — but Gutierrez found an ingenious way to preserve a copy, which would become a key component in Farrow’s expose that was published by the New Yorker in 2017.
In Episode 2, “The Reporters,” Farrow talks to esteemed veteran journalists Ken Auletta of the New Yorker and Kim Masters of the Hollywood Reporter, both of whom pursued the Weinstein story for years and had credible evidence — just never quite enough for their editors to approve the story, as they had legitimate concerns Weinstein could take them down with lawsuits. (Time and again, we hear stories of alleged victims and employees signing non-disclosure agreements, a.k.a. NDA’s, preventing them from publicly discussing their experiences with Weinstein.)
Subsequent episodes tell the stories of Weinstein’s assistant, Rowena Chiu, who recounts the alleged assault by Weinstein when she was 24 years old and how it has impacted her life over the last 20 years; Farrow’s longtime producer at NBC News, which shut down the long-running investigation, leading to Farrow taking the story to the New Yorker; the editors, proofreaders and attorneys at the New Yorker who had to vet every word of the story while dealing with legal threats from Weinstein’s attorneys, and even an undercover spy who was hired to tail and dig up dirt on Farrow but had a crisis of conscience and became a source for Farrow.
Over the course of each half-hour episode, directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato deftly toggle between Farrow’s podcast interviews and archival footage and photos, using just the right amount of stylistic touches to create a compelling atmosphere. Mostly, though, this is the story of voices. The voice of Ronan Farrow, whose mission is to get to the truth no matter how long it takes, and the voices of the brave souls who spoke out against an alleged monster.