Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie
Director: Jay Roach
Screenplay: Charles Randolph
Biography/Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 109 minutes
Release Date: December 20, 2019
I hate to drop a Bombshell on you, Scott, but this is the last review of the decade for Reel Heroes.
Wow. This really Ailes me, Greg. Let’s recap.
We’re introduced to Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) who is an anchor at Fox News. She’s being hounded by Fox News director Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) who wants her to be more demanding on-screen. We’re also introduced to Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) who is also being harassed by Ailes. She gets moved to a lesser position by Ailes because she will not ‘play ball.’ Now, Carlson is on the offensive.
Carlson meets with two attorneys to plan a lawsuit in case she is fired. Sure enough, after Carlson endorses a non-conservative position on Fox News, she is dismissed and immediately files the lawsuit against Ailes for sexual harassment. Meanwhile, another young woman named Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) meets with Ailes who will only help her career if she is “loyal” in being on the receiving end of his sexual abuse. Megyn Kelly ponders whether to tell the world about abuse from Ailes as well.
Scott, the events in Bombshell are well-documented so there’s little to discuss regarding the plot. But what’s remarkable about this film are the performances. Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly is invisible – that is to say, you’d think you were looking at Megyn Kelly on the screen. Between her makeup and Theron’s use of a lower-register husky voice, she becomes Megyn Kelly. Theron constantly amazes me with her range of performances. She seems to move seamlessly from comedy (see A Million Ways to Die in the Old West and Long Shot), to action/adventure (Atomic Blonde and Mad Max: Fury Road) to drama (Tully and Monster), there seems to be nothing Theron cannot do.
Nicole Kidman is still an amazing screen presence. John Lythgow was very creepy as Ailes. And Margot Robbie – well, she was the cute ingenue which seems to be her current role lately. All the performances (even ancillary characters) were superb.
The structure of the film is very interesting. Gretchen Carlson represents Fox women of the past. Megyn Kelly represents Fox women of the present. And Kayla Pospisil (a composite character) the Fox women of the future. Aside from ushering in the #MeToo movement, this story also shows how smart and powerful these women were in bringing down Ailes.
The story is mostly told from the perspective of Kelly as she holds back on supporting either Ailes or Carlson. Instead, she becomes an investigative reporter – interviewing women behind the scenes at Fox so that she can ultimately expose Ailes.
One thing that surprised me about all these women – especially Kelly – is how they seemed to be either insulted or hurt by comments made about them in the media. There’s a scene where Megyn Kelly is visually distressed about Donald Trump’s infamous “blood coming from her – wherever” remark. If I were Kelly I’d think it was either funny or embarrassing for the President – rather than for herself.
Reports I’ve read in the media indicate that there were some inaccuracies in the film. That’s not surprising. Filmmakers often stretch the truth a bit to make for a more cinematic effect. As we’ve so often reminded readers, Scott, this is not a documentary. But even so, the depths of harassment at Fox news, and in the entertainment industry in general, are laid bare in Bombshell.
Very nice analysis, Greg. For me, watching Bombshell was like watching Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life run sexual roughshod over everyone in Bedford Falls. This is one of those movies where you want to take a shower immediately after viewing it. During the decade of the 2010s, Fox News operated like a prostitution ring with Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly as the fat-cat pimp ringleaders. The abuse of women was sickening. Compounding the toxicity was the fact that it took more than a decade for one brave woman, Gretchen Carlson, to come forward with formal charges. That so many men and women kept silent for so long is disheartening and tragic, to say the least.
Let’s not make the mistake of assuming that only ultra-conservatives in power will sexually abuse women. Powerful liberals have gone down the same sordid path, as evidenced by the exploits of Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, and many prominent Democrats. The common denominator in all these cases is power. As I described in my first heroes book in 2011, and as Phil Zimbardo has been saying for decades, power without proper oversight is a recipe for evil. Let’s face it — it’s dangerous to have fame, fortune, and power. Powerful people tend to have a sense of entitlement, a belief that they don’t need to follow the same rules as everyone else. Power tends to lure people into becoming reckless, narcissistic, and abusive.
As you’ve noted, Greg, Bombshell works on the strength of some truly remarkable performances, most notably by Charlize Theron. Her portrayal of Megyn Kelly is extraordinary; she finds a way to effortlessly capture Kelly’s physical and vocal mannerisms. IMHO Theron deserves Oscar consideration. Also deserving of recognition is John Lithgow as Mr. Potter, I mean Roger Ailes. Lithgow’s physical transformation is alarming and creepy. Margo Robbie is also excellent as Pospisil, the amalgamation of many young journalists sadly victimized by Fox’s medieval milieu. Finally, kudos and props to Nicole Kidman for her terrific portrayal of the fearless Gretchen Carlson, who dared to defy the lusty lair of sexual predators.
Bombshell is a bombshell of a movie featuring three blonde bombshell actors. The presentation of three women at different points in their careers telling truth to power was delivered with incredible skill and accuracy. I give Bombshell 4 out of 5 Reels.
Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly represent an interesting buddy duo – one working from the outside the other working from the inside. While they didn’t appear to have interactions, they still worked together to bring down Ailes. I was a little confused about the need to make the Pospisil a devout evangelical Christian who had sex with women – yet did not acknowledge she was lesbian. Since this was a composite character, it seemed an odd choice – are the filmmakers suggesting there are closeted lesbians in Fox news who are aching to get out? Her love interest in this role was Jess Carr (played wonderfully by SNL alum Kate McKinnon who finally takes off the clown makeup and delivers a powerful dramatic performance). I give these women 4 out of 5 Heroes.
The message that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely is clear. But for me the strongest message is a bit cynical. That is, we’ll put up with bad – even immoral – behavior so long as it does not affect profits. Once people in power cause advertisers to “vote with their dollars,” it’s time for changes to take place. But on a more positive side, the message could be that women are finally taking back their power and forcing men like Ailes to face the consequences of their actions. I give this message 4 out of 5 Message points.
Bombshell is a well-crafted cautionary tale about the role of power in corrupting the human spirit. It is also a story about how heroes rise to the occasion to fight that corruption and bring abusers of power to justice. This is a terrific story of heroism overcoming villainy, and it underscores the importance of us all speaking up, standing up, speaking out when wrongs are being committed. Silence only supports the harm-doers and creates more victims. I give Bombshell 4 Reels out of 5.
This movie does a commendable job of highlighting the hero’s journeys of the women who came forward to bring their abusers to justice. These women suffered greatly and did so for years in silence before mustering up the courage to come forward. Unlike many heroes, these women often did their whistleblowing without help and encouragement, and in fact their heroism was often met with scorn and derision. These heroes deserve the full 5 Hero points out of 5.
The message of this story would seem to be the old power corrupts adage. Men in power are particularly dangerous, as we’ve seen countless times in human history. Another message is that heroes are people who dare to do the hard thing when it would be so much easier to do the easy thing. Gretchen Carlson boldly came forward when other women such as Megyn Kelly chose to remain silent. The silence of victims is understandable, given the dire consequences of speaking out. Yet we have to give Carlson an abundance of props for taking a heroic stand against Fox News abusers. I give these messages 5 Message points out of 5.