Jay Roach’s Bombshell details the circumstances that led to the departure of Fox News head Roger Ailes from the perspective of a group of women who come forward about his many counts of sexual harassment.
The “Me Too” movement is in full swing at the moment with those who have been put in horrible positions by people who wield power coming forward and refusing to be silent any more. Such efforts have inspired social change so it was inevitable that one of those stories would be made into an awards season cinema release.
Bombshell has a lot of Spotlight, The Big Short and Vice in its DNA though owes a lot more to the latter two in terms of its presentation. All of those mentioned are worthy examples of dramatisations of real life events so taking a similar approach isn’t in itself a bad thing because the end result could be something crowd pleasing. This film doesn’t feel quite as focused as any of the films I mentioned nor does it have as firm a grasp on the point it’s trying to make. Part of the problem is that there are too many points of view on display which leaves the central message feeling muddled. The real life story was certainly complex and real life doesn’t adhere to the three act structure but if something is to be adapted into a cinematic work then some changes need to be made otherwise it becomes a documentary with really famous and talented people doing reconstructions.
The film primarily follows three women; two real and one composite of a number of real people. Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) represent the generation of women who were helped down the road to success by making certain personal and ethical compromises. Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) represents the current generation of women who are now expected to compromise themselves in the same way in order to further their careers. The man with the power, influence and the ability to help or hinder their career is Roger Ailes (John Lithgow); who takes great delight in taking advantage of the women he employs in order to satisfy his carnal urges. Various social, political and aspiration factors come into play to introduce the conflict over whether women who have been sexually harassed by powerful men like Roger Ailes should come forward and tell their story.
For the most part the film presents this conflict really well. Megyn Kelly ponders the consequences of telling the truth for both her career and personal life because she feels that she owes a lot to Roger in terms of where she has risen to as a TV personality, Gretchen Carlson goes for broke after being demoted then dismissed and Kayla questions whether what she is being expected to do is worth it for career advancement. The three leads have defined positions within the narrative and move through it in ways that really work. Charlize Theron completely disappears into her role as does Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie takes well to the heavy lifting she is expected to do later on in the film. John Lithgow’s portrayal of Roger Ailes is also really impressive. Even though he is the villain of the piece it is made clear that he doesn’t see himself as the villain with several scenes highlighting that he feels that he is helping others and only taking what he deserves in return. The heavy prosthetics allow him to undergo a significant physical change which really adds to the character Lithgow creates.
With a talented cast and an apparent grasp on the issue from the various perspectives the end result should be a lot better than it is. As I mentioned earlier there is a lot being covered and it really hurts the film because it becomes difficult to focus on any one thing. The different perspectives on the same issue is a good thing in theory but the film fails to condense them down into the less than two hour running time so the arcs feel unfinished. Just as the narrative focuses on one character and starts to dig a little deeper into their part of the story things move on so that the broader story can progress. This film really needed to get to the heart of the issue it was exploring and it consistently fails to do that.
As such there are a lot of contrasts between excellence and mediocrity. There are a number of really effective scenes showing the -sometimes literal- pains women go to in order to remain desirable so that they can keep their jobs and other moments highlight the constant fear associated with coming forward because doing so might mean the end of their livelihoods. All of this is really good stuff and showing many examples of this playing out shows the scope of the issue but the same problem of not having time to explore the detail exists here as well. Truly great scenes such as the powerfully uncomfortable meeting where Kayla is made to hike her dress up even higher by Ailes and a silently tense elevator ride featuring the three female leads each dealing with their situations at that point are easily forgotten because what surrounds them doesn’t measure up. The film moves along at a good pace and does enough to hold the attention but everything it does well is countered by a lack of finesse that makes the overall experience feel superficial and rife with missed opportunities.
A competently made exploration of a well publicised social issue that suffers from unfortunate contrasts between excellence and mediocrity rounding out the overall experience as superficial. The film boasts excellent leading performances and a competent exploration of the issue at hand but suffers from detailing too many perspectives meaning that it is overall lacking in detail. Any suggestion of depth is quickly moved away from resulting in a lot of missed opportunities.
- strong performance from the talented leads
- a competent grasp on the various perspectives and the character conflicts
- some really powerful scenes
- combining scope with the personal viewpoints
- little focus on the much needed detail in the individual character stories
- truly great scenes being surrounded by mediocrity
- an overall superficial experience lacking in finesse
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