Film Review – Bombshell
When dealing with the new film Bombshell I will throw my personal biases right out front. Since politics are inextricably linked with the subject, it’s best to be honest about what lens this is viewed with since bias is going to be inseparable from how an audience feels about this. It’s unfortunate. Ideally, we should all feel that sexual harassment and the shaming of victims is despicable. It’s one of those issues that crosses party lines and affects us all. But since this movie is as much an inditement of the conservative propaganda machine as it is a portrayal of workplace inequities, it’s almost impossible to separate personal views from viewing the film itself. So right off the bat I will state politically I personally lean heavily left. Bombshell may not convert many hearts and minds. In fact, it will likely be the punching bag for a lot of punditry in the coming weeks. It can be argued that this movie is preaching to the choir. But since I’m in the choir I enjoyed it.
A lot of what happens here should be very familiar to anyone who’s looked at the news in the past few years. This is basically an all-star reenactment of the sexual harassment scandals that rocked Fox News just a few years ago. Charlize Theron is excellent here as well-known anchor Megyn Kelly. The makeup, hair, voice, and overall look tends to be a dead ringer for the real Kelly. She gets the most screen time and thus is given the most depth of anyone. It deals with her time questioning Donald Trump in the Presidential debate and the personal fallout from being openly confrontational in that moment. It’s ironic as well since Fox and Kelly herself were mostly Trump friendly at the time. Yet she was still harassed by the MAGA public.
Nicole Kidman has a little less screen time as Gretchen Carlson. You may remember she was the former Fox personality who was on the channel for years before publicly suing Fox for sexual harassment. She’s the one who is willing to speak up first but is hoping that others will step forward to back her up.
The third blond is played by Margot Robbie who is an up and coming employee. She is a fictional character who is likely an amalgam of other young women who tried work there and were instead humiliated. She starts out as a true believer in Fox. She says her family has been watching the channel since she was in diapers. But she eventually learns that the indignity of dealing with the culture there is a heavy price to pay.
Under heavy makeup, John Lithgow is almost a caricature as Roger Ailes who was the head of the network. He was the mastermind who created the Fox News machine. It was his ideas of good television being more important that good reporting that propelled the company. Whether it was the propensity to always have attractive women in short skirts at see thru desks or increasing on-screen tensions for the sake of ratings, Fox was definitely his vision. Lithgow grumbles and leers and chews the scenery as Ailes. It’s true that this is set in the last year or so of Roger’s life, so the portrayal may be somewhat accurate. They even reference that he was referred to as Jabba The Hutt by the media. But as a character he is pretty much the public face of Ailes we all saw in the news when he was alive. This is more about reaffirming the worst we all thought about him versus gaining much new insight into Ailes himself.
One amusing aspect of this movie is seeing how many actors they can have dressed up as famous Fox personalities. Whether it’s Richard Kind as Rudy Giuliani or Anne Ramsay as Greta Van Susteren or Malcolm McDowell as Rupert Murdoch, it is a lot of fun to see many of these people taken down a peg. There’s no question with this many notable actors involved that this will be seen as the liberal Hollywood elites sharpening their knives on easy parodies of Conservative personalities. But it is very fun to watch.
Jay Roach is doing something very similar to the recent films of Adam McKay. Roach made most of his money and fame directing the Austin Powers movies as well as Meet the Parents. So, after making a ton of money doing broad comedy, he turns to strong liberal leaning political statement here. McCay did the same thing. Starting on SNL and then being involved in a number of Will Ferrell comedies, he took a sharp left turn into making The Big Short and Vice. Those too were movies about the recent past with famous actors playing very recognizable Conservatives. Yes, in both Director’s work there likely are some invented scenes and dialogue. Pundits will get hung up on the accuracy of the films.
But the underlying truths about moral decay at the center of these stories is the unifying element. The essential truth about perversion of our ideals is what is being expressed. In The Big Short it was about how our system collectively allows those who manipulate the system to take advantage at the expense of the lower classes. In Vice, it was trying hold a camera up to Dick Cheney to show the lengths someone like that would go to in the name of wielding power even if it meant betraying what little decency he may have kept privately.
And in the case of Bombshell, the universal truth of how sexual harassment drags all of us down into the depths is what is most relevant. While politically I may not agree with any of the real-life figures shown in this movie, I would never wish the indignity of having to perform sexual favors to keep their jobs on any of them. The fact that Fox is a place that fostered that environment while influencing so many people in America is how it ends up sullying the whole country. It really gets complex when you realize that these women were frustrated in their attempts to bolster some on-air arguments that were racist and wrong-headed. Kelly and Carlson were definitely willing participants in propping up a divisive agenda. But none of that makes it acceptable to have to put up with what they did in the workplace.
I have no doubt that Fox & Friends will be mocking this film in the future. Especially if it gets some awards attention, the likes of Sean Hannity will tear into how the liberals are trying to lie to the public through films like this. Despite that, just based on what we all know from the news, there is much more truth here than that. This is a sad and compelling look at the culture inside one of the most influential media machines in America bolstered by a strong central performance by Charlize Theron. It may at times spill over into a bit of parody. But allowing harassment to be a regular practice in the office make them ripe for ridicule.