Bombshell movie cast: Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, John Lithgow, Alison Janney, Kate McKinnon
Bombshell movie director: Jay Roach
Bombshell movie rating: 3.5 stars
A film about the greyer side of showy TV, sustained as much on blood, sweat and tears as short skirts and long legs, in which Rupert Murdoch comes out smelling roses. Well, clearly, Bombshell, its title notwithstanding, knows which higher powers to keep happy.
Based on the sexual harassment allegations against the head of Fox News channel, Roger Ailes, it’s also suitably reverent of what that media behemoth means — particularly with another Trump election round the corner.
Consequently, the film dips into everything, Ailes’s legacy as the stalwart political consultant to Republican presidents going back to Nixon, Fox’s hold on its conservative base, why liberals don’t get what it means, and the cruel world that TV can be for women on the wrong side of 30, both on and off screen.
That doesn’t make Bombshell a bad film — far from it. It’s thoroughly engrossing, sustained by some very good acting by all its cast. However, it’s also not the definitive film on one of the biggest sexual harassment scandals to hit the media — before MeToo, before Harvey Weinstein.
Where Bombshell scores is in bringing out the casual sexism that dogs women in the workforce, from offhand compliments to insistence on shaved legs —take your pick from all in the middle. And in bringing out how women constantly navigate that territory, judging which can be minefields and what fences to jump over.
If Ailes represents the menace that takes the form of large, grandfather-like figures, sitting in big chairs which you have to approach, Theron as star anchor Megyn Kelly represents the moral heart of this story. While it’s Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, a Stanford graduate cum former Miss America sidelined at Fox News, who casts the first stone at Ailes, it’s Kelly who takes the call to ultimately bring him down.
It’s not an easy call, as Bombshell indicates. Does it mean her career, as of other women at Fox, was built on “going down on their knees (literally)” before Ailes? Are the women who are complaining doing so because they were ignored? Are the women not complaining doing so because they are complicit? Did being his victim mean you were “the weak one in the herd”, or “the hot one in the herd”? Dit it matter even? And, why is it the women who are answering these questions?
It’s this ground that Kelly has to tackle. The film suggests the anchor’s decisions were driven to some extent by the famous sexist attacks on her by Trump during the course of the 2016 election, when Fox didn’t come to her rescue. Theron, who is also the producer, does well to bring out Kelly’s moral ambiguity in decade-plus years of constant growth at Fox, without judging her for it.
Robbie plays a fictional character, a beautiful newbie who wants to rise fast as a face representing the “evangelical millennium” in a channel she thinks lacks one. Her plight at hands of Ailes is one of the film’s most disturbing scenes.
In a film more challenging of the status quo, it’s Kidman who would be the heart and soul, whose no-makeup look gets the harshest putdown by Ailes — “no one wants to see a middle-age woman sweating her way through menopause” — and who jumps off a cliff not knowing where she would land.
However, perhaps Bombshell is aware of the larger truth. Fox is still around, so is Trump, and Kelly hasn’t found her feet since leaving Fox. As for Ailes, who died a year after the scandal forced him out of Fox… He once gave what he called the orchestra pit theory of politics — “You have two guys on stage and one guy says, ‘I have a solution to the Middle East problem’, and the other guy falls in the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news.”
The truth is, for years to come, there is only one answer to that, isn’t it?