Monday, January 13, 2020

Movie Review: "Bombshell" (2019)

Director: Jay Roach
Year: 2019
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

A look at the sexual harassment case that brought down the head of Fox News, Roger Ailes, and how attitudes towards women and the hunger for power have allowed toxic people to flourish in high-level positions.

Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, and D'Arcy Carden star in the 2019 Academy Award-nominated movie "Bombshell."
Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, and D'Arcy Carden star in the 2019 Academy Award-nominated movie "Bombshell." (Image Source)
In recent years, reports of rampant sexual harassment and sexual abuse by people in positions of power have been brought to light by the likes of the #MeToo movement as brave individuals speak up in the hopes that others will listen and stand behind them. Directed by Jay Roach and written by Charles Randolph, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "The Big Short," "Bombshell" examines one such story that took place at one of the most powerful media outlets in the country: Fox News. The story focuses on three people. Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) was the first individual to bring forth accusations of harassment against Fox News head honcho Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). Second is Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), a Fox News anchor who eventually joined Carlson in her complaint against Ailes. Finally, Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a fictional character who acts as an amalgamation of all the other women who were assaulted by Ailes. The film explores how the desire to gain favor with people who hold positions of power creates toxic environments of fear that make others hesitant and scared to speak up because they are afraid doing so will cost them their reputation, jobs, status, and/or livelihood.
Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) walk together on a New York City street in "Bombshell."
Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) walk together on a New York City street in "Bombshell." (Image Source)
One thing we really like about "Bombshell" is how it examines the level of scrutiny and hostility that befall the women who speak up about the harassment they have endured. It's enough to make you want to burn the whole system to the ground. When Gretchen Carlson first speaks up, Roger Ailes uses every means at his disposal, including the full power of his news network, to cast doubt on her. Her claims created a workplace so volatile that it scared women who might follow suit into remaining silent. Though this particular movie focuses on the ultra-conservative Fox News and Roger Ailes, these types of tactics are often used by many people in high-power positions across all political spectrums and across all workplaces. Despite being written and directed by men, we think "Bombshell" does a decent job of showing what harassment looks like through the eyes of women.

Knowing that Charles Randolph also wrote "The Big Short," many of the same techniques, such as breaking the fourth wall, a voice-over narration, and the occasional vocalization of a woman's inner thoughts, are used here as well. This type of hand-holding narrative/gimmicky filmmaking was useful in a project like "The Big Short" because it helped the audience understand complex issues like subprime mortgages and the 2008 housing crash. It's not necessary for a subject that's a lot easier to comprehend. We often found these tactics to be distracting more often than not, and even when they are utilized, they could have been punchier and more damning.

Apart from that, all three lead actresses offer compelling performances here. Theron, in particular, does an excellent job playing Megyn Kelly, embodying her persona right down to Kelly's specific vocal cadence. The prosthetic makeup work by Kazu Hiro should also be commended since he and his team were able to transform Theron to make her look exactly like Kelly in a scarily realistic way.

It might be difficult to get the audience to empathize with two people who have the negative workplace notoriety that Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson do. Some will argue that by working for Fox News, they helped contribute to the culture we're in presently, one that is quick to question or flat out deny the victims of rape and sexual assault. Nothing, and we mean nothing, that Carlson or Kelly did or said while working at Fox News justified them being harassed and assaulted the way they were. We have a hunch that's why the fictional character Kayla Pospisil has been added into the mix. Pospisil is meant to represent the rest of the women who were victimized by Ailes, but she also comes without the same historical attachment as Kelly and Carlson.
"Bombshell" movie still showing Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie in an elevator at Fox News.
In "Bombshell," Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie stand together in an elevator at Fox News. (Image Source)
"Bombshell" is a little bit messy in its construction, but it does an excellent job using the events that led to the ousting of Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly at Fox News to raise awareness for sexual harassment as a whole across all industries (not just politics/television/media). It could have been a bit more daring, but it's interesting and enraging, nonetheless.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.7/10
RT Rating: 68%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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