Sunday 5 January 2020

Movie Review: Bombshell (2019)

A drama based on the true story of women fighting back against a lecherous media boss, Bombshell features excellent performances but a fragmented narrative.

In 2015 Fox News television star anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) becomes a household name for all the wrong reasons when she tangles with Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump. Meanwhile afternoon show host Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is collecting evidence and planning to sue Fox News CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) for sexual harassment after he demotes her to a less favourable viewing spot for refusing his advances.

Young, attractive and ambitious Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) leaves Carlson's team to join the higher profile Bill O'Reilly show, and soon catches Ailes' eye. He subjects her to humiliating harassment with a promise of career advancement. Carlson is finally fired and launches her lawsuit, throwing the network into turmoil. Her legal team is desperate for other women to step forward and share their harassment stories, with Megyn's refusal to publicly support Ailes causing shockwaves.

Roger Ailes' dismissal was an early milestone just in advance of the #metoo era, and Bombshell goes inside the inner sanctum of Fox News to recreate events leading up to his downfall. Writer Charles Randolph and director Jay Roach focus on the courage of three women, real-life anchors Kelly and Carlson, with Kayla representing an amalgamation of other employees.

The film is polished, inspiring and disjointed. The three women barely share any screen time together, their struggles representing loosely connected but quite separate chapters. Their stories ultimately converge to help shine a light on the truth, but this power in numbers remains primarily off-screen.

While Carlson's lawsuit was the trigger event leading to Ailes downfall, her story gets the least amount of screen time, and Kidman is often reduced to a secondary presence. In contrast Charlize Theron is most prominent and coldly efficient as Kelly. Her early clash with Donald Trump and subsequent media storm was an early sign of the candidate's unorthodox and unfiltered approach, but is ultimately tangential to Bombshell's central theme. Theron shines late in the film, as the implications of revealing (or not) Kelly's truth start to weigh on her shoulders.

Kayla depicts every enthusiastic young woman caught in shark-infested waters without a sturdy raft. With Margot Robbie in sensational form, she emerges as the heart and soul of the film, the next generation of women paying the price for debauchers maintaining their hold on power for far too long.

Roach paints a vivid picture of rampant sexism at Fox News, where women were routinely objectified and pressured into wearing leg-revealing outfits. Rumours of "leg cameras", transparent anchor tables as a tactic to attract gawking viewers, and private elevators to Ailes' office swirled through the hallways.

The downfall of men who sexually exploited women was an overdue workplace revolution, and Bombshell is a genuine if not cinematically spectacular salute to the brave women who helped make it happen.

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