Bombshell (2019)

One film that has brought much buzz among the acting categories is the Fox News centred biopic Bombshell. Following numerous women working at Fox and their experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of their boss, Roger Ailes, the audience follow the lives of three women at different levels of their careers are observed. At the top of the game there is Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), then there is recently fired anchor, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and at the bottom of the tier is newcomer Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) who is based on a culmination of women who worked at Fox. This was not a film I thought would be as gripping or exploitive as it was but this film contains some very upsetting material that shows the trauma that women are forced to endure in order to be successful. The event that acts as a catalyst is Kelly’s encounter with Presidential candidate Donald Trump who tweets various misogynist insults her way after a challenging exchange during the Presidential debate. We see Kelly’s world turned upside down as her and her family’s livelihood is at stake at the hands of a ruthless paparazzi and a passionately threatening audience. Simultaneously, Carlson is fired from her position and seeks to sue Ailes for sexual harassment which is described as a money grab from those at Fox. Overall, it is a film that shows the hardship of women and how dangers in the workplace seep into their personal lives. Directed by Jay Roach and written by Charles Randolph, Bombshell allows its female protagonists to develop and grow while showing their vulnerability and resilience in their quest to end the patriarchal harassment that has humiliated women at Fox over the years.

Charlize Theron is so brilliant as Kelly. In the same vein as Monster, Theron transforms into her subject and manages to perfect every detail about them. Completely deserving of the nominations that she has received, Theron’s Kelly is poised, collected and observant. She is a woman who will not be messed around. This makes the scene in which she opens up about her experience with Ailes shocking considering her strength and influence in the workplace. During the conflict with Trump, Kelly doesn’t make any vengeful comments back and instead is aware that Fox’s access to Trump during the Presidential campaign is crucial. She is able to put her own motivations to the side. It is when she puts herself first that a wave of women from Fox come out and discuss their experience. It’s no surprise that Theron has garnered her third Oscar nomination for her portrayal as this controversial figure. She has this command when she is on the screen and a strength that makes it even more shocking when comments about her menstruating are used as an excuse for her challenging nature. She is constantly given a harder time because she is a woman and not taken as seriously as her male counterparts. Equally, Kelly has respect for Ailes and when the accusations come to light, she faces a struggle between her genuine loyalty to him and the truth. In the end, she realises that she must go with the latter but this isn’t a decision that comes easy or without consequence.

In terms of our supporting protagonists, we are given Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman as newcomer Kayla Pospisil and fired anchor Gretchen Carlson, respectively. Robbie is beyond outstanding in support and continues a stellar year. The scene in which her character is harassed and forced to show her crotch to Ailes is extremely upsetting and difficult to watch. We see Robbie’s brilliantly layered expression as she is clearly distraught and uncomfortable herself at having to do this but she knows she must grin and bear it for risk of being fired. Kayla is a fictional character but the development of her character and the depth that she is portrayed with feels very real. The idea to accumulate multiple women into one has served Randolph’s script well as it allows various perspectives to be shown without confusing or overloading the audience with too many characters. Robbie gained an Oscar nomination for her portrayal and it is so deserved. Time and time again, Robbie is showing us her range and has managed to compile a really impressive filmography following her departure from Australian soap opera Neighbours. Kayla is a character who shows a side of Robbie that we haven’t been able to see before and makes it all the more exciting to see what roles she will take on in the future.

On the other hand, Kidman is definitely underused but packs a punch when she is onscreen. I understand that with three prominent protagonists, it can be tricky to prioritise whose story to go more in depth on but it would be wrong to underestimate Gretchen’s important in this narrative. She is the initial driving force and brings this story out to public knowledge. The opening scene shows other female anchors following the rules followed by a collection of clips of Gretchen being told that her outfits are lovely as well as comments on her body with Gretchen looking uncomfortable but laughing it off. She is immediately presented as an outsider from the get go. When confronted by a woman in the supermarket who tells her that her show and Fox News are a disgrace, Gretchen doesn’t understand and twists it back on the woman. The performance doesn’t require the same level of depth and development that Theron and Robbie have to bring because Gretchen is already at the stage of rebellion but Kidman loses herself in the role. We don’t see Kidman, we see Gretchen. It would also be wrong not to mention the eerie performance from John Lithgow as Ailes. It isn’t easy to play a role like Ailes as someone who seems kind and respected but so manipulative and abusive beneath the surface. Despite having limited screen time, Ailes has a horrifying and lingering presence over the whole film and that is thanks to Lithgow’s intimidating command that he has when he is onscreen. He is very much a puppet master.

Bombshell was a surprisingly intense and thrilling film to watch. The limited use of location, primarily the Fox studios makes for a claustrophobic experience that reflects the entrapped environment that the woman work in. The intriguing part about it is how the women start speaking out without really talking to one another for fear of being outed as a traitor. Thanks to its controversial subject matter and triple female protagonist set-up, it probably will have limited success at awards season but the fact that it has received nominations is a great achievement. Theron, in particular, really brings her A game and delivers her best performance in years.

What did you think of Bombshell? Let me know in the comments below!

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