Director: Joy Roach Writer: Charles Randolph Cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd Staring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow Release Date: December 20, 2019 “Will the investigation find anything uncomfortable?” “Define […]
Director: Joy Roach
Writer: Charles Randolph
Cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd
Staring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow
Release Date: December 20, 2019
“Will the investigation find anything uncomfortable?”
Roger Ailes being asked by his lawyer about the charges brought forward by Gretchen Carlson
The are a lot of uncomfortable things about Bombshell. None more so then the first interaction between Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) and Roger Ailes (John Lithgow).
The audience sees a confident, motivated young worker become suffocated by her old, fat and egotistical boss. Ailes is putting the want-to-be on-camera talent through a spin cycle of deception and abuse. Kayla is continuously asked to raise her skirt. Higher. And Higher. As more skin is revealed, Ailes voice quivers with obvious arousal and Kayla’s demeanor wilts.
Ailes continuously uses “It’s a visual medium” mantra to entice Kayla to oblige his sickness. But the words mean nothing; Ailes is using his power to get something he thinks he deserves. The entire sequence plays out like a horror movie with the audience knowing what’s going to happen and dreading every second of it.
Kayla is a proxy character for many true persons who were harassed by Ailes. The true to life character who started the investigation is Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman). Her courage to bring a lawsuit forward acts as the propeller for the movie. Caught directly in that fan of discourse is Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron).
Theron absolutely steals the screen with one of the best performances this year. She is the star of Bombshell with a portrayal of the controversial talk show host that’s eerily accurate. Her mannerisms and voice are nearly identical to the real Megyn, but Theron still manages to make it an acting performance rather than an imitation. It’s her best performance since Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).
The quintessential scene in Bombshell involves Megyn confronting Kayla about being harassed by Ailes. Megyn ventures to the cubicles and steps into Kayla’s layer. She sits down, and directly asks the question of Kayla has been harassed, to which she gets the honest answer of “You too?”
From there, the conversation unfolds in a way that shines a dirty light on the personalities of the two characters, on-air talent, and media workers in general. The two trade words, asking about coming forward and why the other hasn’t yet. It’s the grips of poor reality knowing that doing the right may poison their respective careers. Kayla throws one last jab at Megyn which she shakes off with a disgusting look and confident strut; but that last insult and accusation shows what working the competitive atmosphere of on on-air talent can bring out.
This where is I personally want to shout out one scene; when Kayla, Megyn and Gretchen all get in the elevator together. It’s immediately recognizable from the trailers, and it’s even better in its full context. There is a fantastic acoustic score of voices talking over one another. It’s just like how the people within the Fox Network are talking amongst one another, creating the carnivorous ecosystem.
The toxicity of the media work environment is bad enough, but the world within the Fox News Network is other levels of dirty in Bombshell. There are no bones about it: Bombshell is an anti Fox movie. It’s refreshing the way director Jay Roach took that mindset. There is not sitting on the fence and trying to appease both sides. It’s all or nothing.
The movie evolves at a fast pace, using a news dump of exposition in the opening 15 minutes to set the framework for the entire story. It’s in the first moments you realize Bombshell is going to grip you. Theron is speaking directly to the camera, breaking the fourth wall, and immediately letting you know the atmosphere of Fox and that she is personally going to reel you in as Megyn Megyn. The pace and tone of the movie reminded me of Adam McKay’s Vice (2018). Bombshell is a little more grounded, and that tethering to reality allows the movie to deal multiple knock punches.
One such sequence kicks off the final portion of the movie. When the allegations against Ailes are starting to pile up, Roach has an incredibly profound cut to six still images of the real-life victims who stepped forward to talk against Ailes. The true testimony makes the harassment portrayed in the movie affect the audience deeper. It also makes the moment of Gretchen’s reveal of having tapes more exclamation mark worthy. She gets the chance to deliver her knockout punch knowing that she has the backing of others inside Fox.
The most emotional scene in Bombshell involves Kayla talking on the phone with her co-worker friend Jess Carr. After not originally going forward, the Kayla tells her confidant that she has decided to take that stop. Then it’s an outpouring of emotion; regret, shame, anger, and many more. The scene is a wonderful dichotomy compared to the first time the two share an intimate conversation.
At the start of their friendship there is a brief lecture on a new job assignment from Carr to Kayla, Following that, the two hook up and the pillow talk after words is about the terrible men and environment of Fox Network. Carr reveals that she is a democrat working at Fox News and she can’t get a job anywhere else because she has been boxed in by the aura surrounding the network. More notably, Kayla learns about the dirty secret of Bill O’Reilly calling up female coworkers late with cruel intentions. The two share a laugh about such a topic then. Come the phone call later in the movie, the tenure around the behavior has changed, and so have the personal effects of it.
The final moments the audience has with Ailes are him across the table of Robert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell). The owner of the Fox Network has let Ailes go and is working through the severance. Ailes asks that Murdoch stand by him upon his departure from the empire he built, but Murdoch denies that. Instead he takes of the company and delivers a rah-rah speech that promises a lot of change…that people just don’t believe. The proxy character Kayla is meant to speak for many when she walks out during Murdoch’s speech.
This whole final sequence does not hit like a happy ending. It’s more a sour note about how despite Ailes leaving, not many things have changed. Sure, the anchors at Fox can wear pants, but the notes about Ailes payout compared to the compensation for those who came forward is profound. Fox News didn’t suffer from controversies, instead it has just grown. Ailes, despite being a monster and terrible human, grew an empire that is now the most powerful in the United States.
Walking out of Bombshell, you will feel like a bomb went off in your head. Theron will knock your socks off with an unreal performance. Roach’s direction and ability to frame a complex topic into understandable terms and stakes will blow you away. Lithgow’s immersion into the prosthetics and pure vileness of Ailes tears through the film like shrapnel. And Robbie’s Hollywood stardom blinds you.
Bombshell is one of the best movies of 2019.
STANKO RATING: A