Review: 'Bombshell' is a #MeToo story that demands to be told
Starring Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie, the film captures the ingrained misogyny endemic in society
Jay Roach’s new film Bombshell has nothing to do with Harvey Weinstein and yet, somehow, it has everything to do with him. Without the scandal that broke in 2017, as several allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against the movie mogul, sadly it’s hard to imagine Bombshell being greenlit. But in a post #MeToo world, this story about the fall of Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes and the women who brought him down demands to be told.
With Weinstein about to face criminal prosecution, it feels like an apt time for Bombshell to drop its explosive content. Scripted by Charles Randolph, who won an Oscar for The Big Short, an intelligent and lively exploration of the financial crash of 2008, it has a similar zest to its storytelling. And it’s this that will likely blindside you in the film’s most powerful moments.
The story takes place between 2015 and 2016 in the New York offices of the highly influential current affairs broadcaster Fox News. In the backdrop, Donald Trump is on the election trail – long before anyone thought he’d make President – and an early subplot in the film shows Fox News rising star Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) cross swords with the White House candidate.
Trump’s own attitudes towards women came to light a year or so later. But just as this is not a Weinstein film, it’s also not a Trump movie. Except that it is. Bombshell may take place before either of these two ageing alpha-males was exposed, but it expertly captures the ingrained misogyny endemic in society.
It’s telling that the film’s trio of leading ladies – Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie – barely share a scene, apart from one symbolic moment when they all take a ride in a lift to the sound of Theodore Shapiro’s unnerving score. Here was a company where women were often left isolated by the overweight Ailes (John Lithgow, brilliant), a ruthless newsman whose bark really was worse than his bite.
Kidman plays Gretchen Carlson, the veteran anchorwoman who courageously filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes after she was sacked. Robbie is Kayla Pospisil, a naive newcomer to the world of Fox News who learns the hard way what it takes to get to the top. While Pospisil is fictionalised, her storyline is made up of numerous real-life anecdotes from various victims.
While Ailes was celebrated for turning Fox News into a TV journalistic powerhouse, it came with dinosaur attitudes. Like the dress code he demanded his female anchors adhere to – the shorter the skirt, the higher the ratings. In the film’s stand-out scene, he asks Kayla to hitch up her skirt inch by inch when standing there in his office. You can feel the shame, the anger and the embarrassment rise, as the tears flow down her cheeks.
With Golden Globe nominations for both Theron and Robbie (and Oscar nods sure to come), it’s Theron’s role that will likely gain the most attention. Kazuhiro Tsuji, the Oscar-winning make-up artist who transformed Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in 2017’s Darkest Hour, does a stellar job in turning the actress into a Megyn Kelly-lookalike. You’ll spend at least 10 minutes staring at the screen convinced it can’t be her.
It’s an impressive disappearing act, much in the way she managed for her serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, but Bombshell is about more than make-up gimmicks. Armed with an impressive support cast – including Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon and Catastrophe’s Rob Delaney – it’s a powerful tale of harassment and humiliation that grows in stature as it unfolds.
With Kelly the catalyst for uniting women against Ailes, director Jay Roach elegantly handles the material. After starting his career in comedy (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents), his recent foray towards more serious fare, with Sarah Palin drama Game Change and Communist witch-hunts story Trumbo, stand him in very good stead here.
Somehow he keeps Bombshell fast-paced and entertaining, despite a very dialogue-heavy script largely set in the confines of the Fox News offices. There is even time for a glorious cameo from Malcolm McDowell as the one man Ailes has to answer to: Rupert Murdoch. There’s something delicious about casting the ultra-violent thug from A Clockwork Orange as the most powerful media baron in the world.
Since being released in America, Bombshell has been criticised for depicting Kelly in a semi-saintly way (and ignoring, as The Guardian recently put it, her on-air “Islamophobia, transphobia and a host of other defects of character”). There’s truth to this, but the bigger villain remains Ailes, and all those around him who facilitated his behaviour. It needs to be learnt from.
Bombshell is in cinemas across the UAE now
Updated: December 18, 2019 07:30 PM