Released: 16th January
Seen: 23rd January
If I had to put a label on it, I’m what you might call a leftist, I believe in a lot of left-wing causes, particularly in regards to things like LGBTQIA+ rights and the rights of other minority groups and like all good left-wingers I hate Fox News. I hate them, I hate everything about them. I really hate Rupert Murdoch and have since before he scarpered off to become a US citizen and help to change the news landscape forever by taking what he had already done with the Australian and British news media and turned it up to 11. Why am I opening with this? Simple, I need you to know my biases before we go on. I need you to be aware of where my head was when I walked into this movie. I always do my best to walk in with an open mind on just about everything I review but there are times when I know there’s a bias that will in some way alter my judgement. Being impartial in regards to a film is a pipe dream anyway, there is no such thing as an impartial review. If you want a review that doesn’t in some way reflect the politics and beliefs of the author… well, you don’t actually want a review, what you want is a plot synopsis written by the studio itself. This film is a political film that deals with a political company and a political issue, therefore the viewers politics will shape on some level how you view the film and it would be a fools errand to pretend otherwise. Please note that this does not mean I want to be involved in a political debate, not only because I’m exhausted with those (It’s 2020, aren’t we all exhausted?) but because even if you somehow changed my mind right now that would not impact my mindset walking into this film which is why I’m bringing it up at all. I’d rather just get all that out in the open now so you can consider it when you read what follows and how much of it you feel would be relevant to you. Oh, one more tiny bit of bias… I’m sincerely happy that Roger Ailes is dead and by the time you finish watching this movie, you’ll probably feel the same way I do.
Bombshell details the first major shot fired within Hollywood during the #MeToo era, the downfall of Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), noted sexual harasser and rapist who also did some TV stuff. It tells this story through the eyes of two of Ailes’ most prominent accusers, Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman). It also utilizes a fictional character named Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) who is an amalgamation of several other Ailes accusers. This trio slowly come to terms with just what has been done to them and begin the process that would eventually take down the most powerful man in media… I mean, take him down in the sense that he resigned with a payout of $40 million but at least he wasn’t able to harass his employees anymore.
This movie made me viscerally angry, and not because of how it presented its content (though we will get to that). By now I’d like to think that we all know and agree that Roger Ailes was a sexual harasser who did vile things and we should not be treating him with any respect whatsoever because he gave up the right to be respected the second he inappropriately touched a single woman. What might not be as well known are the specifics of what happened, so this film is ready to go into some of the important details of just what he did. From the ritual humiliation of getting potential female presenters to spin for him and lift their skirts so high that he could see their underwear to just flat out requesting/demanding blowjobs from them. The details are sickening and it fills the audience with a wave of righteous anger. Fortunately, the film knows this and so it uses the same tricks Charles Rudolph used in The Big Short, with characters breaking the fourth wall regularly to state their inner thoughts directly to the audience and even offer them exposition. It’s a style that was also recently shown off with Vice by Adam McKay, the other writer of The Big Short and personally, I think Charles uses the device a lot better. He knows when to directly address the audience to pull them in, when to restrict himself to voice over to fill them in on some essential bit of backstory (or in one funny and yet horrifically painful scene, let you hear the inner thoughts of a woman realising that she’s being harassed and by not going along with it that she’s going to lose her job). It doesn’t lose sight of its target, it’s here to tell the story of these three women who went through hell and took their demon out when they had the chance.
The downside to being so focussed on a single target is that it can feel like they’re brushing over key details, in part because they are. They’re trying to fit a year’s long battle involving dozens of people into a 109-minute feature film that requires a three-act structure in order to be palatable enough to a mainstream audience that it will be able to get its message out there. It means that a lot of what Roger did is implied, characters have conversations that you can tell they never had. Megyn Kelly pointedly called out a scene where Margot Robbie’s character, who I remind you isn’t a real person, attacked Megyn for not coming forward sooner and effectively blaming the victim. It almost goes light on what Roger did, keeping most of it to innuendo until they really can’t hold back anymore and make it clear that he’s been soliciting oral sex from his employees. We’re dealing with a man who made himself a legend and used that power to do some of the vilest things to people he hired. He’s still detestable in this movie, aided by a career-best performance by John Lithgow, but we all know there’s more there that we never get to see. It’s all surface, we never delve into the depths of what he did, the system that allowed it or the network that keeps having this problem. Hell, we’re so surface level that the other sexual harasser on staff, Bill O’Reilly, is barely mentioned in the movie and his eventual firing would be told to us as part of the end card of the film. It’s almost like the filmmakers realised that because most of the cast is made of left-leaning people and that actually attacking the culture at Fox that allowed this sort of harassment would end with the movie being attacked for being partisan. They pulled a few punches that they could’ve easily taken and I kind of wish they’d just gone for it and been even more pointed in calling out the bullshit that created an environment that let this abuse go on for so long.
While the story might be surface level, the characters are not. These are complete perfect recreations of some of Fox News’ biggest names but the standout is easily Charlize Theron who just decided to become Megyn Kelly. Her impression is so perfect that you cannot tell at any point that it’s Charlize. They edit her into archival footage of Megyn and you can’t tell that it’s not the original footage, and Charlize never drops the facade for a split second. Nicole Kidman might not be doing as perfect a recreation of the original person but she is still embodying her brilliantly. Meanwhile, Margot Robbie keeps stealing the film with her character who feels real even though, again, she’s playing an amalgamation of multiple people. Every one of these characters has several moments to shine, from Charlize’s brilliant delivery of “Did he accuse me of anger menstruating?” and dealing with the vicious attacks from the man who would go on to become president (I love reality, I really do) to Nicole finally taking the gloves off and going for Ailes to the most heartbreaking scene in the film, the one where Margot Robbie’s character is in Ailes’ office and slowly realises just what’s going on and what is about to happen. Seriously, that 2 minutes of the film where her face goes from almost innocent joy to sheer horror is the kind of acting that any other year would be drowning her in awards… she just had to do it in the same year Laura Dern did Marriage Story and took those awards away.
Bombshell is a battle cry of a movie that needed to yell a little louder. It gives you enough key events that you will walk out of the theatre painfully aware of just what these women went through (and, if you’re like me, being so glad that the man who hurt them is no longer able to hurt anyone else). It might do it with a softer touch at times and several moments will make you want to scream “This was written and directed by a man who doesn’t actually get how this is coming across” but it’s still a genuinely good film. I just hope that maybe this being out will be enough that Fox will tear up the NDA it put on Gretchen Carlson, since all the details are out there anyway, and she can get her own voice back instead of needing to hope that Nicole Kidman’s voice will do the job for her. No matter what side of the political aisle you are on, I think we can all agree that it’s bullshit that they needed to get a bunch of actors to tell the story when the real women aren’t allowed to. I also hope you’d agree with me that maybe a company that allowed this to go on (And would pay the abuser more than his victims) should go as financially bankrupt as it is morally bankrupt as soon as humanly possible