Synopsis – A group of women take on Fox News head Roger Ailes and the toxic atmosphere he presided over at the network.
My Take – Till date the #MeToo movement continues to be in full swing, with brave victims coming forward to share their horrific experiences with men of power. While the moment has seen many prominent figure fall from grace, Hollywood studios seem to be latching on to the movement to bring out these scandals on the big screen in the form of a supposed penance for directly/indirectly letting this men go on for so long.
While Harvey Weinstein, became the face of sexual harassment perpetrators and jump started the conversation in powerful ways, Fox News creator Roger Ailes, who has been accused for decade’s long abuse by various women, has been getting most of the screen time since his passing. With last year seeing the release of the documentary Divide and Conquer and this year seeing the release of the Blumhouse backed Showtime series The Loudest Voice starring Russell Crowe.
Probably because the horrendous events surrounding the allegations against former CEO and Chairman of Fox News, Roger Ailes, are astounding as he guided the conservative news network from its humble beginnings into the most watched cable news channel and, directly or indirectly, is responsible for the tone of modern political and journalistic discourse.
Here, director Jay Roach combines dramatized documentary-like shots and some fourth-wall breakage to makes this abhorrent topic easy to watch and accessible on a larger range, a process which does slightly undercut the film’s overall impact.
Not enough to harm the message it’s trying to impart, but it does feel a little safe and basic, considering it was touted as the first film to grapple with the implications of the movement. That’s not to say this isn’t a very good film, although the script and direction are somehow a bit basic, the film as a whole gets carried by its bunch of talented actors, who manage to propel the material into an engaging piece.
Set against the backdrop of the 2016 Presidential Election, the story follows Fox News employees Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Gretchen Karlson (Nicole Kidman) and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie). Megyn Kelly has been a star anchor for some time and despite warnings doesn’t shy away from confronting Donald Trump, the person who’ll end up winning the presidential election, about his outrageous tweets, in which he objectifies women over and over again, at the Fox News Debate. However, her head to head blows back on her as she ends up receiving instant retaliation from Trump and his supporters along with many junior employees at her office.
Meanwhile Gretchen, fed up with the comments her male co-anchors have made over the past couple of years and her demotion by her boss, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), ends up meeting a pair lawyers to take action, who in turn advise her to wait until they have a case strong enough to take down Ailes himself.
On another floor, the young Kayla, who has recently started working as an associate producer, is still reeling in her joy for getting an opportunity to work in country’s top news network. Which is soon shattered when she gets to visit the infamous second floor aka Ailes’s office, where she gets to face a harsh reality in person. However, when Gretchen is finally ousted from her position, she sues Ailes for sexual harassment, which leads to a movement in the network, with some women okay to thrive in the toxic environment, while the rest building up the courage to finally stand up against Roger Ailes and his army of supporters.
There is no doubt that the film’s perspective and framing are more omniscient and neutral, ostensibly by way of director Roach. The performers lend nuance and complexity to their characters in ways that transcend the writing and directing. The film wants to focus on their victim hood, and on the problematic culture at FOX News that not only allowed sexist behavior to proliferate, but often seemed to actively encourage it.
While director Jay Roach tries his best to condense a vast topic into the few short months of Ailes’ decline, its biggest problem remains in how too often does it pull its punches when it should be going for the throat. The script, from screenwriter Charles Randolph, who co-wrote the Oscar Award winning screenplay The Big Short, is full of the kind of research that’s made his previous work such a delight, but lacks in much of the sardonic wit that made his previous film so fun and engaging. Instead the film works best, however, when it’s contending directly with sexual harassment and what that looks like.
Robbie‘s character Kayla serves as our direct window into sexual harassment, and does a profoundly affecting job at portraying the shame and powerlessness of sexual harassment and the film’s most effective moment’s stem from that. Kayla is a self-described evangelical Millennial who worships Fox. She’s a window into how some women were forced to play the game at the network by enduring Ailes’ lecherous gaze. There’s a terribly uncomfortable scene in which Kayla visits Ailes at his office, where the “discreet but unforgiving” boss demands her to hike up her skirt so he can see her underwear. Robbie‘s once eager expression changes to resignation and clutches her skirt higher and higher, looking only at the wall.
In another scene, which illustrates what’s really the thesis of the film, is a conversation between Kayla and Theron’s Megyn Kelly. Kelly has heard rumors about Ailes’ pressuring Kayla to perform sexual acts in exchange for favorable treatment at the network. Kayla is devastated that Ailes pressured her that she gave in to the pressure, and that people know about it, and when Kelly asks Kayla to come forward, Megyn uses that empathy tool that journalists often use to elicit cooperation. In an effort to get Kayla to open up, Kelly admits to Kayla that she was harassed by Roger, too. Kayla is surprised to learn this, but even more surprised to learn that it’s happened to so many other women, none of whom came forward. Kayla also wonders, why did none of those women — or any of the men who so obviously knew what was going on — ever warn Kayla before she walked into Ailes’ trap?
In contract her other phenomenal scene is actually a fun sequence. After getting drunk and sleeping with a production assistant named Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon), Kayla that she’s not gay, but the real scandal is that Jess Carr is a closeted Democrat working at Fox News. The scene mostly works because who is not going to love pillow talk between a closeted lesbian and a closeted Democrat, who has a poster of Hilary Clinton in her bedroom.
Without a doubt, the acting ensemble alone is worth the admission. Charlize Theron and John Lithgow wonderfully embody their real-life counterparts, completely disappearing into the roles, her through strong acting and him through his acting and the brilliant prosthetic makeup job. Nicole Kidman too excellently evolves in her character, makes us root for her strong hold. However, it’s Margot Robbie, who gives one of the finest and delicate performances of her career.
In supporting roles, Kate McKinnon, Allison Janney, Mark Duplass, Rob Delaney, Connie Britton, Liv Hewson, Alanna Ubach, Nazanin Boniadi, Alice Eve, Ashley Greene, Tricia Helfer, Brian d’Arcy James, Ben Lawson, Josh Lawson, Jennifer Morrison, Madeline Zima, Stephen Root and Malcolm McDowell are effective. On the whole, ‘Bombshell’ is a clunky yet mildly effective drama which remains watchable for its compelling ensemble cast.
Directed – Jay Roach
Rated – R
Run Time – 108 minutes