Every now and again a truly important movie comes along. The story of sexual harassment at Fox News is far more shocking than the relatively minor splash it made on the UK news would lead us to believe. Hollywood has been relatively silent and reluctant on this topic, something that’s proven to be endemic in its own ranks, as well as those of many high profile TV corporations like Fox (and indeed universally). But here we have a mainstream Lionsgate film, starring three big hitters in the acting community, knocking it out of the park. Bombshell isn’t just good because of its message. It’s well written, well-acted, directed and shot with docu-style realism.
Nicole Kidman plays Gretchen Carlson, the veteran trailblazing anchor who sued Roger Ailes, SEO of Fox News, for sexual harassment in 2016. The legal action was a huge risk and career suicide but led the way for over 20 women to follow suit. Charlize Theron co-produced Bombshell and plays Megyn Kelly, the influential anchor who eventually adds her voice to Carlson’s. She presents an uncanny resemblance to Kelly – a well-known figure across the pond – nailing her manner and voice in a powerful, perfect and rounded portrayal. Margot Robbie takes the role of the young, innocent and ambitious Kayla Pospisil, and it’s through her eyes we experience the graphic horror of Ailes’ power-play.
Much of the beauty of Bombshell is its willingness to fearlessly present the full, complex and honest picture. In an especially searing scene, Pospisil fiercely criticises Kelly, presenting the case that had she – as a powerful TV figure – put ambition aside and spoken up much sooner, other women like Pospisil may have been saved from the harassment. But we see and hear Kelly’s side of the story too, along with those who lose their livelihoods by complaining and those who stay and succeed but suffer. The script does an excellent job of explaining how and why years of harassment and silence can endure in environments such as these.
Bombshell induces many tears, but it’s also witty and peppered with laughs (not an easy task for writers and directors when working with this subject matter). Wobbly shots bring realism, while long single takes help us feel involved with the characters. Everything about its crafting is on point and well-designed, not least its stunning ending. As it draws to beautifully pitched climax, feelings of frustration and anger linger. Yet moreover, there’s a resounding sense of hope, of change and fierce empowerment. Bombshell deserves to be recognised with an Oscar or two. But as it likely won’t sit well with much of the Hollywood and US media establishment, there’s every chance it’ll be overlooked.
@Filmhouse, Edinburgh until Thu 6 Feb 2020