BOMBSHELL

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jay Roach

Stars: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Mark Duplass, Allison Janney, Richard Kind, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Liv Hewson, Stephen Root, Robin Weigert, Malcolm McDowell, Josh Lawson, Ben Lawson, Brooke Smith, Nazanin Boniadi, Elisabeth Rohm, Spencer Garrett, Tony Plana.

Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, and Margot Robbie in Bombshell (2019)

Bombshell is a dramatization of the sexual harassment scandal that, in 2016, rocked FOX News and exposed the toxic workplace environment of sexism and misogyny and predatory behaviour, and eventually brought down its powerful creator and founder Roger Ailes, who ran the organisation with an iron fist. This is the perfect film for the #METOO movement, as those journalists who spoke up against Ailes were amongst the first people to bring the issue of sexual harassment to the fore. As such though, Bombshell is covering much of the same territory as the recent seven-part television miniseries The Loudest Voice, for which Russell Crowe won a Golden Globe for his performance as Ailes. But it lacks the same depth and insightful detail.

The film has been written by Charles Randolph (The Big Short, etc), who carefully researched FOX News and drew on several extensive interviews with former employees to paint an accurate picture of the organisation’s toxic culture. Offering up a mix of fact and fiction the film is very busy, and introduces a number of characters at speed that makes it hard for the audience to sometimes keep up with who is who and where they fit in. However, the film lacks the necessary sense of urgency and bite, and ultimately isn’t as hard hitting as it should have been given the important and disturbing subject matter of sexual harassment in the workplace. The spectre of Harvey Weinstein and the scandal dogging him also looms large over the material.

The director is Jay Roach, who is better known for his comedies like the Austin Powers series. Here he brings to the table pretty much the same slick bag of tricks and flashy visual style he used in The Big Short, his forensic exploration of the Global Financial Crash, and Dick, his biopic of powerful US vice president Dick Cheney. There is plenty of his trademark straight to camera exposition and flashy captions. The film is glossy and fast paced, but Roach and Randolph ultimately shy away from making moral judgements about the characters. Roach’s direction is a little uneven, and there are many flat patches during the running time of just under two hours.

The film concentrates on three women who brought the scandal to the attention of the public, and the fact that they are pretty much blonde and similar physical types visually reinforces one of the issues the film is trying to make. Veteran reporter Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) was one of the first whistle blowers to accuse the powerful Ailes of misconduct. She had lost her spot hosting FOX’s breakfast program and could sense she had lost favour with the network for rejecting Ailes’ not too subtle overtures. Her accusations eventually led to a number of other women coming forward to also accuse the powerful figure, who eventually left the organisation he founded in disgrace.

Rising star Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) also spoke up, putting her own career at risk. And then there was Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a naïve but ambitious production staffer who was willing to compromise her own personal values in order to get ahead at FOX. Kayla strikes up a friendship with the closeted Jess (Ghostbusters’ Kate McKinnon, in a fairly straight role that eschews her usual quirky mannerisms), who mentors her. Kayla’s character is actually a composite of several other real life characters, but we get to see the harassment first hand from her experience in a scene involving her in Ailes’ office. It certainly makes for uncomfortable viewing, and you can almost sense Robbie’s discomfort. Robbie’s performance is nothing short of excellent as she conveys her character’s growth from naïve and conservative ingenue to fiercely ambitious wannabe news anchor.

Theron brings a strength to her role as the uncompromising, tough as nails Kelly, and she certainly embodies the character to the point where you forget you are watching an actor play a role, while Kidman brings an icy calm and steely determination to her performance as Carlson, a slightly underwritten role. An almost unrecognisable John Lithgow is superb as an oily and creepy Ailes, buried under a layer of prosthetic makeup from Oscar winning makeup artists Kazu Hiro, who similarly transformed Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill for The Darkest Hour. How he missed out on an Oscar nomination for his performance is another great mystery.

Most of the male characters barely register here including Mark Duplass as Kelly’s supportive husband – Ben and Josh Lawson play the Murdoch brothers James and Lachlan, while Malcolm McDowell gives a good impersonation of the powerful media tycoon and News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch. Allison Janney plays Ailes’ lawyer Susan Estrich while Richard Kind (Spin City, etc) plays attorney and former NY mayor Rudi Giuliani, who defend him against Carlson’s claims of sexual harassment.

While Bombshell boasts some superb performances, particularly from Theron, Robbie and Lithgow (all in fine form), it is a little too slick and a little too shallow and superficial in its treatment of such an important issue.

★★★

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