With its Powerhouse Performances, ‘Bombshell’ Delves Into the Horrors of Sexual Harassment
The Fox News playbook is turned on its head in this eye opening, irreverent and comically astute story of three heroic women who take on the network’s rampant culture of sexism and topple one of the world’s most powerful men, media giant Roger Ailes. The unfolding of this compelling showdown begins with three ambitious and remarkable women at three different stages of their careers. Their individual battles become headline news when their interweaving stories collide in one of the most salacious instances of corporate sexual harassment. In the spirit of THE BIG SHORT, it’s funny because it’s (mostly) true. And it’s frightening for the same reason.
Director: Jay Roach
Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow
Country: United States
Runtime: 109 minutes
Based on the Fox News sexual harassment scandal in 2016, Bombshell is a dramatised recount of the events and struggles faced by former Fox News anchors Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly that eventually led to the fall of media mogul Roger Ailes. Written by Charles Randolph, who won an Oscar for The Big Short, Bombshell brings the same rapid-fire dialogue and fourth-wall-breaking to this film. And it works incredibly well here.
Besides its fast-paced and witty dialogue, Bombshell succeeds in crafting complex characters with depth and emotional arcs. The main trio of Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) are the focus of the film, and each of these characters plays a different role in strengthening the story.
Megyn is the main character that introduces us to the world of the film with a mockumentary style fourth wall break and we follow her throughout the story. Gretchen sets up the situation with her decision to sue Roger Ailes, and her choices decide which path the film will take. But when compared with the other two characters, Gretchen seems more like a side character. More emphasis was placed on Megyn’s and Kayla’s decisions on whether to step up to expose their boss, while Gretchen only seems to be the catalyst for the film by filing the lawsuit in the beginning. Kayla, the last of the trio, is the moral center of the film and perhaps the most sympathetic character. Through her experiences, we see the devastating effects of sexual harassment and its emotional impact.
In one of the most impactful scenes of the film, Kayla goes to an interview with Roger Ailes, but is then requested to lift up her skirt for him. The brutality of this scene lies in its execution, where the camera is honest and doesn’t try to hide anything from the viewers. We see the hesitation and discomfort in her as she struggles internally. It is an invasive moment that is as difficult to watch as it is emotionally wrecking.
However, the script also falls short in terms of its characters, touching on too many people but unable to explore deeper due to the runtime. Most of these characters end up appearing in only one or two scenes and then the film never mentions them again. This may be confusing for viewers without much prior knowledge of the story.
Luckily, the film is saved by the powerhouse performances by its solid cast of Theron, Kidman and Robbie. But the performance that really shook me was John Lithgow’s chilling portrayal of news tycoon Roger Ailes. With the help of makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji, who also did the makeup for Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour, Lithgow transforms into Roger Ailes with the use of prosthetics.
While the prosthetics help to give the physical form of Roger, it is Lithgow’s ability to capture the details of him that sells it. Be it his tone or his movement, Lithgow presents a man who is highly paranoid and extremely conscious of his image, yet also incredibly charismatic and arrogant. Lithgow’s performance gives an insight to the duality of this polarising figure and his eventual downfall.
Filmed mostly with handheld camera work and zooms to emulate the feel of a documentary, Bombshell focuses more on the reactions of characters instead of the action itself. Often lingering on the faces of characters after the dialogue, the film allows audiences to feel the impact together with the characters. Unfortunately, there are moments where the zooms become too distracting and they pull the audience out of the moment by drawing too much attention to itself.
Ultimately, Bombshell is a hit-and-miss in terms of its scripting, but doesn’t fail in creating an intense and fast-paced narrative that grips you from the beginning. With a strong cast and powerful performances, it’s a biographical comedy-drama that raises awareness of the toxicity still present in our culture.
Bombshell is now showing in cinemas. In the meantime, check out the trailer below: