director: Jay Roach | runtime: 109mins | biography, drama
In the midst of the 2016 Presidential debate, a group of women accuse Fox News head, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), of sexual harassment and a toxic work environment. At the head of accusation is Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Fox veteran Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron).
One of the more defining parts of this decade has been the rise and awareness of sexual harassment, whether it be Hollywood, corporate scandals or even the introduction of a number of important movements like #MeToo. One of stories that sticks out so prominently is the massive scandal that occurred at Fox News, when a number of women came forward against Roger Ailes for his toxic work environment and sexual harassment. While Bombshell does wrestle wonderfully with the toxicity and harassment, it’s place in history may not stand as tall as the story it’s telling.
The film really comes from the perspective of three women, and despite not explicitly sharing any scenes as a three (other than one elevator scene), they all have their place within the narrative. Megyn Kelly most notably was in the midst of a feud with then future President Donald Trump, but it’s Gretchen Carlson who got the ball rolling by suing the company and Roger himself. Even though she is the catalyst for other women, and she’s played by Nicole Kidman, Gretchen doesn’t actually have too much prominence on-screen. She is important however, and Kidman (prosthetic and all) still does a lot with the little time she is given, but the interest of the story comes from the backlash, and the lack of voice that the rest of the victims had during this time, including Megyn Kelly.
Megyn comes across like independence-incarnate, and Theron controls the room just as you imagine Megyn would have in real life. But her story is probably the one that fits nicely into the narrative, with so much heat on her because of Trump, a sexual harassment case could be the most career-destroying move for her. But what Charlize does so well in her performance is capture the power but also the vulnerability and likability of her family-orientated side, and when she does finally speak up it’s very clear she made the right decision. Kelly acts as the ‘speaking up sooner’ aspect of film, whereas Kidman is the first to highlight it, Theron is the all too familiar conflict we have seen in silence vs. speaking out. The film, while sometimes being a little too flashy for it’s own good, does capture the characters well-enough, using star-power to harness the bravado of it’s setting which comes mostly from Theron’s performance.
Talking of performance, the best in the film comes from Margot Robbie, playing one of the only fictional roles in the entire film. Slightly different from the powerhouses that surround her, she plays a young and bright-eyed Fox enthusiast, with an entry-level job, named Kayla Pospisil. Robbie acts as the here-and-now aspect of the film’s story, letting you know that this problem is now and bigger than ever. Her scenes are actually some of the most harrowing, doing so well to capture the emotional core of the film. One particular scene sees Roger asking Kayla to spin for him, and eventually lift her dress. It’s as uncomfortable as you can imagine, and Robbie’s expression says it all. But if there was any doubt in Robbie’s ability as an actress, watch the phone call scene with Kate McKinnon (another delightful addition to an already stacked cast), as she finally breaks down and admits to ‘giving in’. It’s the most heartbreaking scene you’ll see, and if the film had stuck with this level it may have found it’s voice a little clearer.
As good as the performances are Bombshell doesn’t come without it’s problems, not being able to find a tone to match it’s story. In recent years we’ve seen these ‘impossible to tell’ stories being sold as comedies, most notably The Big Short (2015). But the problem with this style is that Bombshell isn’t nearly as complex as it thinks, and the flashy visuals and narration get a little too caught up in the atmosphere of it’s setting rather than the importance of it’s story. While this style of film isn’t necessarily bad, one film that cuts deep without the flash is another 2015 gem, Spotlight. While Bombshell is neither of these films, and definitely has a voice of it’s own, it maybe should have approached it’s tone with a ‘take no prisoners’ agenda rather than the bravado and colour of a Fox set.
While you appreciate the style Bombshell is going for, it really doesn’t do justice to the story it’s telling. That being said from a more Hollywood point of view, the film is rich with wonderful performances and scenes of genuine emotion, and the ending speaks volumes for the outcome of these affairs, as Roger Ailes takes home $65m and Rupert Murdoch takes over as interim CEO. While the film does make you ask questions and take notice, it’s just a shame it won’t be as defining as the story it’s telling.