Jacob Richardson | 15/01/2019
A modern horror story told effectively, innovatively and compellingly.
Bombshell follows the journeys of three women at Fox News; Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), an anchor on her way out, Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), an anchor in her prime, and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a budding new employee looking to become on air talent. When Gretchen, after being fired, starts a lawsuit against Fox News founder Roger Ailes that alleges sexual harassment, she feels confident that others will come forward with their own stories - but can anyone break free of the Fox News propaganda machine to shine a light on the horrors inside?
Directed by Jay Roach, Bombshell is a frequently compelling tale and should be commended both on its unflinching look at the terrors of workplace sexual harassment, and on its ability to do so in such an expedited timeframe - noting that the events of this film take place around 2016/17, which means the time to bring it to screen was very short. With such a rapid turnaround, it is perhaps surprising then that this movie is so good.
Without a shadow of a doubt, it is the performances here that make the movie so indelible. Kidman is (as recent Oscar nominations would suggest) the least impressive of the three, but still does a tremendous job showcasing a woman who, in her own words, ‘jumped off a cliff’ for the sake of taking down a predator. Robbie is fantastic also, particularly in a teary phone call to sometimes lover Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon), and in a scene with Ailes himself (John Lithgow) as she is asked over and over again to raise her skirt just a little higher. The two scenes showcase the complexity of Robbie’s performance - one an out and out emotional, teary scene where Robbie is shaking and sobbing, and the other a much more subtle, internal conflict scene etched in the lines and grimaces of her face.
The standout, however, is undoubtedly Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly. Kelly faces a conflict, as she has weathered Ailes’ advances before and now finds herself top dog at the network. Some early scenes showing the impact of her ‘becoming the story’ help to contextualise the peril of her stepping forward even further - evidencing the impact these paparazzi will have on her young family if she does decide to take a stand. Kelly states multiple times in the film that she is “not a feminist”, and Roach delivers a particularly intriguing two-hander between Robbie’s Kayla and Theron’s Megyn where they discuss whether Megyn Kelly had any responsibility to come forward sooner and save other young women. It’s an interesting portrayal from Hollywood of a conservative woman’s perspective on this, particularly given the perceived left-wing liberal bias of tinseltown.
The supporting cast of characters is across the board fantastic, although Roach may be having too much fun shoehorning in various zeitgeisty names from pop culture now and members of the Trump apparatchik for his own good. The script is punchy and quick, and anchored in a direct to camera continued address and narration from Theron in her Megyn Kelly impersonation which draws you in with immediacy.
The only real issue with Bombshell is in its approach to the villainy itself. The focus here is definitively on Roger Ailes (with a few winking nods to Bill O’Reilly’s transgressions), and while it is undoubtedly effective, Ailes is a poster boy for sexual harassment without any of the nuance - he is an old, repulsive man, with a distinct, clear and evidenced power balance, who has been recorded saying clearly coercive things. While it, unfortunately, isn’t tough to imagine (or indeed recollect reading recently about) even more horrific acts, Bombshell does little in the way of exploring more subtle, insidious forms of workplace sexual harassment.
Bombshell is tremendously compelling and anchored in three outstanding lead performances.