Bombshell arrives in the UK just as Harvey Weinstein is being taken to court by his accusers, with the real world lining up with the award season push. Weinstein has become the face of powerful men accused of abusing women, although one year before the scandal broke, the titan of Fox News, Roger Ailes, was forced to resign from his position as CEO of the organisation (along with a hefty pay off) after some of the channel’s most established female stars accused him of sexual harassment.
Perhaps if the film’s director Jay Roach wasn’t so eager to hide away the hateful views spouted by the likes of Kelly and Carlson on Fox, a more complicated profile of the women involved could’ve been constructed. We don’t have to like the characters to be on their side, but the willingness to sweep such a fundamental part of their public personas under the rug never sits right. Which is a shame, as Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman deliver the sort of high-calibre performances you’d expect, along with good work (and make-up) by John Lithgow as Ailes (Malcolm McDowell also appears late on with his best Rupert Murdoch impersonation).
Roach’s film brings together the holy trinity of Theron, Robbie and Kidman, the actresses playing, or representing, the women who led the charge against Ailes. With Theron as the high profile Megyn Kelly and Kidman as ex-Fox News anchor, Gretchen Carlson, Roach has to walk a fine line in shaping the truth of the people involved. Telling the story of how a serial abuser of women was taken down should have real resonance, but when the main characters and everyone around them are so utterly deplorable, finding a way to truly empathise is a struggle.
The film opens using the now popular Adam McKay explainer style, although it manages to leave out the smugness that usually comes along with it. Roach begins events just before Kelly was accused of “anger menstruating” by a campaigning Donald Trump. Ailes appears to have her back, mostly because he loves nothing more than a public spat to spike the ratings. Theron takes on the voice and poise of the unflappable Kelly with real gusto, serving as the driving force for the narrative. Further down the Fox chain a new naive production assistant called Kayla (Robbie) has big hopes of making it in-front of the camera. That is until she meets Ailes who asks her to show her loyalty by exposing herself in his office. It’s a dark moment and probably the film’s most powerful, unmatched by anything else that comes before or after.
You’ll have noticed that Kidman has yet to be mentioned and that is because she is largely relegated to a minor role. Even though Carlson instigates the initial lawsuit against Ailes, Roach’s focus is on the dominant Kelly and self-realisation experienced by Kayla. Kidman is required to be more subtle than her co-stars and could be easily overlooked by their more showy performances, but there’s a calm authority to her presence. Kayla is used as our entry point into the dark inner sanctum at the top of Fox and Robbie does a good job at transmitting the shock and uncertainty Roach is aiming for.
Scriptwriter Charles Randolph is probably aware that to really get into the film’s themes the nastier side of the victims would have to be addressed too. By purposely avoiding it all we are left with is a shallow take on a serious topic that is deserving of far more. Of course, Bombshell is really about Weinstein, but even in his current outcast status no studio will be willing to tackle the subject head on unless he is convicted. In that respect it makes for a film that lacks any kind of resonance with the real world and appears just to have been made by Hollywood, for Hollywood.
Bombshell opens nationwide in UK cinemas on January 17.