Vice.” The year before that, it was “The Post.” You get the idea. 2019's model is “Bombshell,” handling such important topics as sexual harassment, institutionalized sexism, and Fake News. And like these movies usually are, the critical reception has been divisive. The film has received some raves but many more responses have seemingly not known entirely how to react. Either way, Awards Season has not ignored “Bombshell.” It has been picking up nods left and right, including three Oscar nominations.
The film traces the downfall of Roger Ailes, the scumbag that is largely responsible for turning Fox News into the loudest voice in the deafening right wing noise machine. The story focuses in on the three women who brought him down, by exposing the atmosphere of blatant sexual menace he created. Gretchen Carlson has been loosing ratings for the network, after adopting a slightly more liberal perspective on her show. After confronting Donald Trump about his sexism, Megyn Kelly becomes the target of heavy criticism from Trump and his fan base. Kayla – a composite character created for the film – is a new hire at Fox News, who is personally targeted by Ailes' harassment. After Carlson is fired, she sues Ailes and brings his abuse into the light. Soon, Kelly and Kayla join the fight.
Bill O'Reilly's perverted phone call habit, which is treated as just a matter-of-fact of working at Fox. Ailes is open with his sexism. He insists the female newscaster always have their legs visible and in frame, frequently shouting as much on set. When “Bombshell” zooms in on specific abuse, it's largely effective. The moment where Ailes makes Kayla spin around for him and then pull up her skirt is especially unsettling. A later moment, when she elaborates on Ailes' more extreme abuse, breaking down in the process, is when “Bombshell” comes the closest to touching on something powerful.
However, there's a pretty big problem with “Bombshell.” The film never actually interrogates the ideology of Fox News. The abuse Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, and many other women, suffered at Ailes' hand was terrible. Yet, if you're going to make a movie about them, you should probably acknowledge the stupid shit they've said, the corrosive effect their words have had on American journalism. That the women themselves stood behind some pretty sickening shit. There's a brief depiction of the infamous “White Santa” report but that's about it. Otherwise, Kelly and Carlson are shown to be the best of a bad lot. (Which is, needless to say, debatable.) Trump is depicted in the film but the way Fox News came to act as his personal propaganda department is shown uncritically. Ailes' abuse was a symptom of a larger environment of sexism, racism, and corruption, an undeniable fact that “Bombshell” doesn't seem interested in discussing.
Ultimately, what works best about “Bombshell” is its performances and its make-up. Charlize Theron adopts an odd voice as Megyn Kelly but is otherwise very good, depicting a woman torn between her politics and her personal experience. Margot Robbie is excellent as Kayla, whose dreams of conservative news stardom crumble in the face of workplace realities. Nicole Kidman is equally compelling as Carlson, whose finely crafted veneer of Fox News sensibilities start to crumble as more bullshit is piled on her. John Lithgow plays Ailes as a pathetic old man who is still guileless in how he abuses his powers. Lithgow shows the true banality of evil, as his Ailes so casually does shitty things and remains utterly convinced he's in the right the whole time. Helping sell these performances are uncanny make-up jobs, that transform Theron, Lithgow and other cast members – such as Richard Kind as Ruby Guiliani and Malcolm McDowell as Rupert Murdoch – into the perfect facsimiles of the real people.
a Best Original Song hopeful from Regina Spektor, hailing the women as feminist heroes.) This approach is, obviously, flawed. Despite the best efforts of the admirable cast, it's an issue the movie can't overcome. Subsequently, the viewer is left uncertain how to feel or react, which is rarely a great place for a movie to leave you. [6/10]