With the media currently showing us scenes of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein as he shuffles into court, expecting sympathy while his victims continue to try and rebuild their lives, along comes the timely release of Bombshell. Based on a high profile #MeToo scandal, Bombshell gives us a look deep inside the heart of Fox News, and tells the explosive story of the women who fought back against the powerful man who created it.
Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) begins by giving us a whistle-stop tour of the Fox News building – the floor layout, who is located where, how various news teams operate, who some of the news anchors are. We learn about the second floor, where the man at the centre of the scandal to come, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), has his office and where Rupert Murdoch and his sons all fit into the organisation. It’s a lot to take in right off the bat, so whatever you do don’t turn up late for the movie and make sure you’re paying attention!
It’s 2016, and the presidential campaign is in full swing. Megyn Kelly is preparing for the Republican debate hosted by Fox News, where she is planning to fire off a controversial question at Donald Trump regarding his treatment of women. There’s a bit of an upset (literally) earlier in the day though, when Megyn develops a nasty stomach bug, presumably from someone tampering with the coffee bought for her on her way to work, and she very nearly doesn’t make it to the debate, which we assume was the desired outcome. She manages to attend and get out her question though, resulting in the kind of rage tweeting from Trump that we’ve now become so accustomed to, backlash from Trump supporters, and paparazzi turning up at the holiday home where Megyn goes to take a short break with her family.
Meanwhile, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is meeting with lawyers regarding the sexist comments that she regularly receives both on air from her male co-anchors, and off air from people like Roger Ailes. She also feels that her demotion to a less popular daytime show is the result of her reluctance to ‘play ball’ with Ailes. We see the uncomfortable story of Rudi Bakhitar, fired for politely declining the sexual advances of her employer, and the lawyers advise that Gretchen will need to gain further evidence from other women before they can file a successful harassment suit against Ailes.
The harassment and treatment of female employees and what they have to endure at Fox News, just to try and come close to the same level as their male counterparts, becomes increasingly apparent as the movie progresses. Short dresses, wide angle shots and transparent news desks in order to see their legs and hold viewer attention – it’s the kind of thing you might only casually or subconsciously notice while watching a show, but eye opening and shocking when you see the actual orders being given in the control room to switch to a certain camera, and the women being told off screen how they should look and dress. Even though you know it’s only a matter of time before Carlson gets the support she needs in order to get justice, there’s obviously a lot of tension and drama that needs to play out before we get there.
In order to highlight and demonstrate the harassment off camera, particularly from Roger Ailes, we are introduced to up-and-coming journalist and new Fox employee Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), who is actually a fictional character. Kayla beings by working with Gretchen Carlson, but is keen to progress to bigger things and, despite warnings from Gretchen that she should keep close to her, takes a job on Fox’s number one program, The O’Reilly Factor. Along the way, Kayla forms a relationship with her co-worker Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon) and manages to find her way into the office of Ailes, where we get to see him at work in what is a very creepy and uncomfortable scene. As news of Gretchen’s lawsuit breaks, a slow trickle of former victims begins to come forward, with Megyn remaining noticeably tight-lipped about an encounter she had with Ailes 10 years ago. It’s clear that somebody like Megyn has enough power to make the lawsuit a lot more viable, she just needs that final push to make it happen.
For me, Bombshell is all about the incredible performances. Charlize Theron wears simple prosthetics, and underwent voice coaching in order to convincingly play the role of Megyn Kelly, and she is outstanding, as is Nicole Kidman. We really get to experience the trauma and the ups and downs of Margot Robbie’s character along with her in the movie, earning her a supporting actress BAFTA nomination this week (against herself, for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood!). John Lithgow, who I found to be brilliant as Winston Churchill in The Crown, has once again bulked up in order to portray Roger Ailes, and succeeds in making him seem human, and at times humorous, while still managing to portray his darker, weaker and more creepy predatory side.
Outside of the performances, I actually found Bombshell to be a fairly average movie. What happened in the space of just a few days in real life, seems to occur over weeks in the movie and I felt the trailer covered off the majority of the story in a pretty tight and more intense few minutes, with the movie just a more lengthy version of that. Still, Bombshell is definitely watchable, and as I mentioned right at the start, more important and relevant now than ever before, so deserves to be seen by all.
Bombshell is released in UK cinemas on January 17th