Bombshell relays the true story of the high profile sexual abuse case that hit Fox News in 2016, leading to the departure of established and respected CEO Roger Ailes. Starring Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson and Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly the film is a powerful and welcome parable for the Me Too movement that may, in turn, inspire others to stand up against such deplorable treatment.
Let’s try to ignore the fact that it’s directed by Jay Roach who also gave us the Austin Powers films, a series in which the protagonist generally greeted women in the workplace with words along the lines of ‘Hey baby do I make you horny? How do you like it? Shall we shag now or shall we shag later?’.
Yeah, I’m kidding. You know me better than that. I’m not going to ignore this at all. I’m not going to decry Roach as a sexist though because Powers was a parody and the late 90s was a different time. Hell, what this new film shows is that even the mid 2010s was a slightly different time, albeit not yet nearly as different as it needs to be, and that this case was instrumental in changing people’s perspectives. No, my only issue with Roach is simply that he’s a man.
I applaud him for wanting to tell this story but I definitely think it should have had a woman calling the shots, or at least doing the writing. It is interesting that while there is no way now that males would ever be accepted as the main creative voices on projects like Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel or Black Widow, there remains little issue with men controlling the narrative when it comes to real female heroes. Bombshell is a female centred story that revolves around a distinct female experience and I have no doubt it would have been better told with the right woman in charge. I’m fairly sure it wouldn’t have been called Bombshell for a start and I am certain that, with a female director, when John Lithgow’s Ailes insisted that Margot Robbie’s character showed him her knickers, she wouldn’t have had to display them for the whole cinema audience too.
Putting this single discomforting moment and the gender of the film makers aside (I’m not putting it far away; it’s still here next to me where I can reach it if I need to) then I have to say that Bombshell is a very effective movie. It deserves the awards attention it has garnered. Most of its nominations are for acting and hair and makeup and these should definitely be celebrated. The makeup is particularly impressive as Kazu Hiro, who already has gongs for turning Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour, has created some astonishing prosthetics for some of the key cast. Charlize Theron looks almost as much like Kelly here as she looks like herself, it’s a spooky combination of both of them. John Lithgow is unrecognisable as well and the work done to turn Malcolm McDowell into Rupert Murdoch is just uncanny. As the awards nods suggest, the performances from those beneath the rubber and face paint are all strong and the others unburdened by fake noses and chins are also excellent. Nicole Kidman displays her usual fortitude as the woman who risked everything to start the investigations and Robbie, as a made up composite character, gives possibly her most real performance in the seven years since her career rocketed.
What you get from these three central women, all in different positions and circumstances within the old school organisation that employs them, is the full range of experience of working with toxic, oppressive, brutish, bullying and powerful men. You really understand the pressures they are under, the consequences of doing something and of doing nothing in this situation and the courage it took to succeed in this environment and then to challenge it. It is hard not to be moved by their efforts and as a result those of the actual women they play. In real life I recognise Kelly has demonstrated some objectionable attitudes herself, and the movie doesn’t totally shy away from this, but none of this takes anything away from what she did in this case and it is right it is celebrated.
My previous comments notwithstanding I also think the film should be spoken of for its storytelling and the way it handles the material. Frankly there can’t be enough of these tales of prejudice and discrimination being overthrown and the fact that they are tackling the ways this affects modern society, rather than just historically, delivers serious punches in a fight that is far from over.
Speaking of which Trump a big part of the film. He appears as a distinct character (in archive footage) and his famous spat with Megyn Kelly initially drives then informs her story. It is fair to say he doesn’t come out of this well but it is interesting that the movie stops short of showing that after Roger Ailes is fired and disgraced as a sex offender, it was Trump that immediately gave him a new job.
Even with my reservations I really admired Bombshell then and crucially I think it manages to be the important work it thinks it is.
The Ripley Factor:
Clearly this whole film is about battling the patriarchy. It goes to some pains to point out that Megyn Kelly, who is the lead, does not identify herself as a feminist though. I agree that she is demonstrably not a part of feminism as a movement but you cannot deny that she, and several others in the movie, are advocating women’s rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes.