Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 49 minutes, Director – Jay Roach
Years of sexual harassment claims against Fox News founder Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) emerge after the firing of anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) amongst the rising heat of the 2016 Presidential election.
Aside from Charlize Theron’s much talked about transformation into Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly Bombshell is notably one of the first major films to tackle the Me Too movement. It’s a story detailing one of the major uprisings of sexual harassment claims in the media world. As the race to become the 2016 Republican Presidential candidate heats up Fox News finds itself in a row with front-runner Donald Trump. Specifically prime time anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron).
As already mentioned Theron is completely unrecognisable as the prominent Fox News host (helped by the Oscar winning man who transformed Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour; Kazu Hiro). Not just when it comes to the prosthetics but also her posture and voice. In fact, to an extent, if you weren’t aware that Theron was underneath the make-up you could be forgiven for thinking that the figure you were actually seeing on-screen was Megyn Kelly. At the start of the film Kelly walks through the offices of Fox News explaining to the viewer the different kinds of people that work there, and the power that they have over others – the sequences feel very much like something out of The Big Short (screenwriter Charles Randolph was the co-writer on that film), while never entering the realm of satire. Power that many use for their own good, none more so than founder Roger Ailes (John Lithgow).
It’s made clear early on that Ailes will only allow women on Fox News if they’re willing to sexualise themselves and be attractive not just for the sake of viewers, but for him personally. Short dresses, legs and pads to make breasts look larger are all elements that he commands, screaming at producers in control rooms for wide shots to show as much of female presenters as possible. However, the true extent to what occurs at Fox News is seen in Roger’s personal office. Hopeful female presenters and producers are asked to give him a twirl and show him their legs – one scene in particular with Margot Robbie’s producer Kayla Pospisil is rather uncomfortable to watch.
It’s through Kayla that we see much of what makes the brand such a toxic one to work for. Amongst the silencing of female voices, forced to agree with the men in the workplace, almost any liberal view is entirely shut down and disallowed. Kate McKinnon plays a fellow producer who is led to hide a picture of her with a friend from college in case it gives away that she’s a lesbian – let alone one that supports Hillary Clinton.
All of this is happening whilst a rising court case against Ailes’ years of sexual harassment is being led by anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), an effectively quietly angry performance. Her figure struggles to get more women to speak out against the dominant founder of the network, and friend of Rupert Murdoch (a late-appearing, yet, of course, great, Malcolm McDowell). Nobody wants to speak out in fear of loosing their job, even those who have been demoted to local news fear for speaking out, in case it would affect their reputation and chances of being employed anywhere else.
For a large proportion of the film these three lines are switched between. Often it almost seems as if one character has been forgotten about if we don’t see what’s happening to them for around 20 minutes. All three performances are certainly passionate and Theron is worthy of her Oscar nominations, with great support from Kidman and Robbie, she steals the show in every scene that she’s in. And while the performances from the entire cast are clearly passionate and, as mentioned, great. The screenplay sometimes feels slightly less passionate.
At some points in the piece it almost feels as if certain characters are speaking in exactly the same way, but it also feels as if the level of anger and passion from the three central performers isn’t quite there in the screenplay. The thought does begin to occur at one point that maybe this film or story would have been better off in the hands of a female writer, and even director. While the script as a whole is perfectly fine and the final film does what it does fairly well. Led by three fiery performances and some truly effective scenes and ideas, however there are some lulls where the screenplay doesn’t quite rage as much as the film may possibly need? It begins to slightly dip during some quiet moments where as characters struggle to find people who are vocal about similar experiences the film almost seems to be unsure as to where to go, like the characters at some points. When mixed with the three different storylines – which admittedly come together rather well in the final 25 or so minutes – the film does border on being slightly messy, only just avoiding this feeling. However, despite its flaws and what it does there’s enough to like about Bombshell to make it a good watch, and maybe if it wasn’t for the three leading performances the film wouldn’t have turned out to be as good and fiery as it is.
Charlize Theron steals the show as she leads three fiery and passionate performances in one of the first major films to tackle the Me Too movement. However, at some points you wish that the script had as much flare and rage, maybe if it was written, and even had been directed, by a woman it might have turned out differently?