Bombshell - Mediocre story-telling raised up by wonderful performances
3 out of 5
Director Jay Roach is experienced in taking real-life stories and events and transferring them to the cinema. His previous films included 2017's Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House and 2015's Trumbo. Bombshell is based on the well-publicised events that happened at Fox News in New York where a group of women took on the toxic, misogynistic atmosphere that existed at the network, presided over and led by CEO Roger Ailes. Anyone with a passing interest in current affairs may be familiar with the details.
Nicole Kidman plays Gretchen Carlson who is moved from her popular morning show because she is viewed as "anti-men" to a less prestigious afternoon slot on the Fox News Network where she continues to remain unpopular with the network by opposing the continued use of assault weapons and she is eventually fired without reason. She decides to sue the CEO of Fox News, Roger Ailes. Charlize Theron, meanwhile, plays Megyn Kelly who hosts her own show on Fox News. Early on we see her question Donald Trump during the US Republican candidates debate. He launches a retaliation against her on Twitter.
Margot Robbie plays a composite character, one made up to represent some of the experiences of the other 22 women who eventually joined Carlson's lawsuit. Her experiences and scenes were truly degrading and horrific. I found it difficult to watch. There is nothing graphic, just suggested, but that is enough. As a woman, I found the scene where Ailes asks her to lift her skirt to see her legs because "there is a reason they have glass tables on set" deeply uncomfortable. I wanted to smack Ailes and hug Robbie's character. While watching I was trying to reconcile why she didn't walk out with her obvious desire to get the job.
It's a matter of public record that Carlson, Kelly and 22 other women were successful in their suit, not just of Ailes but also of Bill O'Reilly, another news anchor at Fox. Carlson received a settlement of $20m dollars. In total Fox paid out over $65m in settlements.
The film itself is an oddity. It played more like a Netflix documentary than an exploration of sexual abuse and misogyny in the workplace. We only get to see the surface of the characters. Margot Robbie's character is the most realised but we never really get to know the others. The screenplay, which should have written itself, is a little disjointed and unclear in places. What lifts this film is the cast. The performances are all spot on and well delivered.
Let's start with Roger Ailes. John Lithgow is perfectly cast and brings to life the person who created the Fox News TV empire. You can see his ruthlessness, his clear vision and his moral authority. Lithgow also brings a creepiness and almost ghoulish portrayal of Ailes as a thoroughly despicable character. Nicole Kidman gives one of her best performances for years and Margot Robbie is in top form as the ambitious, vulnerable and ultimately, damaged news room wannabe. Charlize Theron is outstanding and eerily, a very good likeness for Megyn Kelly. She gets more to wrestle with as she decides whether to join the suit against Ailes or save her career. As we learn, Ailes had sexually assaulted her years earlier. She has to balance being in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, just like her recent public spat with Trump, with saving her career and, indeed, her marriage.
I found Bombshell a tough watch. Fox News and Rupert Murdoch do not some out of it well. Neither does one Donald J Trump. He is also portrayed as a misogynist. Surprise.
I believe that as part of the #MeToo movement, this film is essential. I think we need to see more. I hope that when we do, they will do more than just scratch the surface.
Interestingly, Megyn Kelly hosted a round table discussion with her fellow characters after the release of Bombshell. It is definitely worth watching after you have seen the film.