Playing out one of the most important chapters – the prologue if you will – of the #MeToo movement, Bombshell drops us into the frenetic offices of Fox News to witness the buildup to the sexual harassment allegations levelled at media mogul Roger Ailes.
Director Jay Roach and writer Charles Randolph doesn’t go full The Office on us, but with moments of acerbic cynicism, breaking of the fourth wall, and some intermittent handheld, roving camerawork, there’s an impressive handling of levity that doesn’t dilute the severity of the situation, while keeping the story away from being documentative or melodramatic territory.
Bombshell is most definitely a story with multiple commentaries. It tackles the most difficult area of sexual harassment to naysayers – the reasoning. Because in many instances, it builds up over a length of time, and is easy to trivialise when taken apart. So Roach and Randolph lets us see, with a measure of objectivity – the many tiny cuts that lead to a final wound. It also explains why it is so difficult for women to sometimes come forward with these allegations, as they face threats, shaming and discreditation – sometimes even from fellow women.
Roach approaches this three ways with his different leads. Taking stewardship, is Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman). Unhappy with the increasing hostile environment and actions taken by Roger (John Lithgow) for her “feminist” opinions on air, the cunning host of Fox & Friends plans her exit, gathering with her damning evidence against her boss.
Then there’s Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron). The star anchor is a tour de force at every appearance, until her investigation into Trump’s bevy of demeaning comments to women led to her fall from grace for her right-wing viewers. She experiences a complete loss of support from her network, and questions her loyalty. Though she isn’t the one to launch the accusations, she becomes our primary perspective, and we see more of her chess pieces being weighed.
Robbie Margot is Kayla, the third aspect to the representation of manipulated women under the CEO’s mentorship. The aspiring ingenue is fueled by ambition, but also suppressed by fear, which eventually leads her down a path she regrets but ultimately changes. Hers is arguably the most uncomfortable, as it is the one that happens during the course of the movie itself. The office scene where she is pinned by the invisible power of Roger, is terrifying.
Bombshell intercuts between the three, leading us down varying responses to the harassment by Ailes. The fact that the ladies worked in the same building and yet never came together until much later, shows how insidious and institutionalised the misogyny has become, creating a habitat that supports silence. And it is also through this that reveals to us how the journey of abuse starts small, and can be made complicit by the non-action of those in the environment through callous remarks or a willingness to look in the other direction.
This lack of crossover between our leads may seem to suggest a disjointed film with three arcs, but Roach inserts opportune meetings with fantastic skill to make them all the more powerful when they do interactions. When Megyn confronts Kayla about the episodes, Kayla equally questions her on allowing this culture to continue – you see, even the victims sometimes are part of the problem, and that’s not an easy thing to say.
In one of the only scenes where the three women meet, they don’t even speak. And yet, that short elevator ride (used to great effect for the trailer) says nothing, and yet everything.
Bombshell may occasionally roam into realms of caricature – we only need to see so many shots of the ladies glancing over at their children to remind us they are doing this for the future generation – but absorbing performances by Theron, Margot and Lithgow keeps believability in check. A nod to the restrained but excellent use of subtle prosthetics throughout the film, transforming Theron and Lithgow to their real-life counterparts effectively.
The writing’s sharp. The acting magnetic. It’s easy to say #MeToo for this title.
A compelling look into the #MeToo scandal that started it all, Roach brings in cynical humour and an eye for nuance to this film.
First published: www.movieXclusive.com