‘Bombshell’: Film Review

Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie star in this powerful depiction of the allegations that preceded the #MeToo movement

Starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney, and Margot Robbie

The most striking, unsettling and deeply disturbing element of Bombshell is that it’s based upon the true story of Roger Ailes (here played by John Lithgow in a stomach-churning portrayal) and his downfall on the back of multiple accounts of sexual harassment. The film turns its eye to the toxic culture created at Fox News to enable Ailes’ abuse of power against the women in his employ. This oppressive harassment culture is dismantled by Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and the fictional character of Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), who is a composite of the young, impressionable women who were victim to Ailes.

It’s hardly surprising that Hollywood would tackle stories of sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the Harvey Weinstein scandal. The fact that these acts predate that even by a short time period, only occurring in 2016 makes the events depicted within the film, sensational as they may seem, even more sickening and close to home at just how recently these hierarchies of lecherous control were dismantled.

Bombshell details how Fox News has become more of a “sell” to its audience, instead of merely portraying the facts, in line with how many other elements in America are designed to seduce and to persuade. The culture has become more about appearances than it is about the truth: the use of plexi-glass desks to that the cameras can see the female news reporters in their pencil skirts. In one particularly humiliating moment, Ailes confronts Carlson for not wearing makeup on her show, completely shattering her self esteem, in a scene that Kidman plays perfectly, her rage perfectly bubbling under the surface, but unable to properly fight back as a result of the power that Ailes holds over her career.

The most uncomfortable and heart-rending scene is the encounter that Pospisil experiences in Ailes’ office where, attempting to network her way to an on-screen position, Pospisil confronts the harsh reality of how people advance within Fox News. His beady gaze fixed upon her in a fractious silence, he asks her to give him a twirl, before continuing to instruct her to hitch her skirt higher, and higher, his lustful gaze taking in every inch, as her hands tremble and frightened, embarrassed tears spring forth. Worst of all is the lack of support she experiences from other Fox workers, such as friend Jess (Kate McKinnon), who encourage her not to say anything and not to involve them in the terrible open secret that keeps the network status quo in tact.

It’s only when Carlson gets fired, and has nothing to lose from speaking out, that she comes forwards with her accusations, though it’s not a simple process encouraging others forwards. Ultimately, however, Carlson starts a domino effect that allow for Ailes to be toppled from his lofty position.

Bombshell, as well as being a compelling and deeply unsettling true story about a powerful man who abused his power over others’ careers to abhorrent ends, features brilliant performances, in particular from Theron and Robbie. Playing an actual person, Theron has a trickier job in impersonating, but manages to capture an assured and intelligent woman who knows her own mind and pulls no punches. Robbie gets more freedom, and really captures the terror and the anguish of women put in her position, creating some of the most affecting moments of the film.

Something that drives the point even further home about the damning situation are the use of real news footage, in which the actors have been inserted, such as Kelly’s interview with Donald Trump, or even the use of actual news reel footage at the end highlight Ailes’ downfall. In a world in which talk of equality seems to be more lip service than it does action, films like Bombshell really highlight the incredible work that is still needed to dismantle corrupt and unfair institutions that exploit power to their advantage.

Bombshell is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, and can also be purchased from other digital retailers

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