Film, Reviews, Screen

Bombshell review: truth is stranger than fiction

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Bombshell might’ve missed out on a couple of Oscar nods for Best Picture and Supporting Actress for Nicole Kidman, but there’s some consolation with the deserved nominations for Charlize Theron in the Lead Actress category and Margot Robbie for her supporting role. Even though Robbie’s part isn’t so large as far as screen time is concerned, she packs a huge emotional punch with her perfectly honed performance.

Not the only recent piece of drama to tackle the fall from grace of Fox News founder Roger Ailes (the other being TV mini-series The Loudest Voice), Bombshell is a sober, methodical exposé of how those with extraordinary power, money and corruption in their bones can be brought undone, if all of the right components align.

Screenwriter Charles Randolph was also responsible for Oscar favourite The Big Short, which managed to make otherwise inaccessible economics surrounding the global financial crisis entertaining. Hardly anyone ended up being prosecuted sufficiently considering their crimes there, so in that sense Bombshell has a more uplifting ending. It’s now well known that the CEO of the right-wing network was fired and vilified, as he should have been. (Let’s not dwell on his huge payout.) 

The story is in safe hands with Randolph’s no-holds-barred take on just how atrocious and creepy Ailes’ behaviour was, and Jay Roach once again shows he can do more substantial material than Austin Powers movies (Trumbo, Game Change). Witness the uncomfortable but non-gratuitous scene where Robbie, as the conservative evangelical Kayla – an ambitious producer intent on being on-camera – has to reveal her legs and then a bit more to the ageing Ailes, who makes it clear that if she wants to get on TV, there’ll be a price to pay.

This infamous “twirl” was apparently the minimum price for the Fox females to endure, including senior presenter, Megyn Kelly, who introduces us to the place where she works via voiceover. Charlize Theron’s uncanny resemblance to Kelly, including the shape of her chin, immediately gives credence to what unfolds and we’re reminded of that bizarre and disturbing time back in 2016 when presidential hopeful Donald Trump decided to cyber-bully Kelly, because she dared to question him about his appalling record with women. 

But it was Gretchen Carlson, played by Kidman, who really kickstarted the Roger Ailes downfall, which unfolded alongside the Trump election shock. As she had the audacity to become middle-aged, her boss doesn’t miss an opportunity to insult and demean her, his mantra being that television is a visual medium and no-one wants to see a woman her age going on about feminist stuff and not wearing stacks of make-up.

It’s now well known that the CEO of the right-wing network was fired and vilified, as he should have been. (Let’s not dwell on his huge payout.) 

And of course, there were her legs – he was a stickler for female announcers wearing skirts and having their legs on show, often courtesy of glass-topped desks. Hearing some of his comments, it’s hard to believe he got away with it for so long, but that’s the insidious nature of power and collective silence.

When Carlson sees the writing on the wall, she contacts some lawyers who eventually start the lawsuit which brings Ailes down, greatly helped when Kelly finally agrees to stand up and be counted. Many other lesser known women come on board, thus creating a defining event in the #metoo movement.

Bombshell, although obviously a fictionalised version of what really happened (Robbie’s character is a conglomerate of several young women who complained), gives a disturbing insight into how the popular cable network is run. These include performances by Aussie brothers Josh and Ben Lawson as James and Lachlan Murdoch, respectively, and Malcolm McDowell as Rupert. Apparently even the senior Murdoch was taken by surprise at the rising popularity of Trump and realised Fox had to jump on board or be left behind by the disaffected millions who saw their saviour in the real estate mogul/golf-playing reality TV star. Yes, truth can indeed be much stranger than fiction.

Bombshell is out now in national release.

One response to “Bombshell review: truth is stranger than fiction

  1. Bombshell did not say anything we ddi not already know. The narrative failed to emotionally involve. I could have for intake revolved about the Kidman character and her anxieties. As well some attempt could have been made to explain the behaviour of the protagonists. A wise lawyer of psychiatrist could have been involved. It was a rather shallow movie.

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