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BOMBSHELL gets 6/10 In the foxholes


Directed by Jay Roach

Starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow

6/10

We’ve seen directors known for their comedy chops aiming, and sometimes hitting, for an Oscar trajectory recently: Todd Phillips’ Joker, Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, and Adam McKay’s Vice. Jay Roach has taken a similar road, swapping out Meet the Parents and probing the American political landscape (such as 2012’s Game Change). Bombshell explores the cult-like world of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, as CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) is accused by several women of sexual harassment, a subject also explored impressively in creepy Showtime drama The Loudest Voice last year.

The film follows anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron, as impressive and transformed as her Monster role), former Fox & Friends anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), and aspirational newcomer to the network, Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie playing a composite character).

After vigilantly consulting her lawyers, Carlson is fired unjustly, and soon strikes with allegations of sexual harassment against Roger Ailes. When the walls at the network start shaking, other victims find themselves bereft of support, encountering co-workers who are either paralysed with fear, preoccupied with their own job security, or blindsided by their own allegiance to the Murdoch Club. Squadrons of female Fox staff are depicted wearing “Team Roger” t-shirts to pressure others to do the same. A potential ally to Robbie’s Kayla Pospisil comes in the form of Kate McKinnon’s closet Democrat/lesbian character Jess Carr, but even her open support is withdrawn in the shadow of the immense threat of the network.

Director Jay Roach does a lot of work here in illustrating the forces which women face when they decide to confront an abuser, and the heightened nature of these forces when such shots are fired within the conservative media culture, and yet it falls short of going beyond where lawyers fear to tread. The film is preceded by a very tactical disclaimer regarding the artistic licences taken in depicting these events, and there is a distinct feeling that the film has one arm tied behind its back.

Wisely, without condemning the accusers depicted, the film shows us the kinds of moral compromises people make when they decide to take a paycheck from the Murdoch Machine, and choose to live amongst the GOP tribe. Bombshell is strangely toothless when it comes to exploring the complicity of the self-proclaimed “non-feminists” despite their obvious need here. Female anchors are depicted not so much as television stars, as they are slaves to a culture and system – almost like Roman Gladiators, who know no way but the limited life they find themselves living in the Arena.

There are some tough to watch moments of cinematic excellence littered throughout, with John Lithgow surely making the skin of a large audience crawl, and Charlize Theron is note perfect with her depiction of Megyn Kelly, who candidate Donald Trump famously implied was compromised by menstrual anger when she decided to play hardball during questions at Republican Primaries. Characters are occasionally placed alongside real broadcast footage amongst real co-anchors and politicians, and Theron’s Megyn Kelly is convincing even when juxtaposed with her real life counterparts. Kidman’s Gretchen Carlson is as solid as you’d expect, and Margot Robbie delivers an emotional and sometimes heartbreaking character. All add up to a solid film which will likely prompt further discussion once the lights go up again.

JOHN HOLDCROFT

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