Review: Bombshell (2020), Fails to Detonate Resoundingly

There is a deliciously charged scene near the halfway mark of Bombshell depicting the three principals in a lift. No words are exchanged at first, all of them sizing each other up from the corner of their eye, deciding whether they are friend or foe. Prior to this scene it all feels like a wine and dine build-up of each character’s motivation. The lift scene is momentous with each woman representing different stages of their career and what they have to lose if everything explodes. Their paths intersect and the possibilities are enticing. However, what a could-have-been becomes a flurry of denouements that don’t quite hit the spot.

Bombshell is a retelling of the 2016 sexual harassment scandal at Fox News, which was the harbinger of the #MeToo movement. The story drops us right smack into the presidential campaign and Fox News honcho Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) makes no bones that he likes Donald Trump at the helm. Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) is tasked to pick at Trump which lands her in hot soup. Kayla (Margot Robbie) is new and wants to build a vivid career at the network. She gets more than she bargained for when she finally gets to meet Ailes in his office. Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is a veteran at Fox News programming, but she has had enough of the male corporate atmosphere, especially when Ailes is trying to squeeze her out of the network as she tries to introduce feminist thinking in her show. Knowing that the end is near, she seeks legal help, eventually suing Ailes for sexual harassment, exposing his sexual deviant behaviour to the world.

For a talkie movie, it moves at an electric pace. Scenes don’t overstay their welcome, neither does director Jay Roach allow the scene to build to an empathetic level. There is also a cheekiness in that Kelly at times addresses us, educating us in the not too subtle ways of the network that seeks to be the Numero Uno of all television networks. It is an intoxicatingly breathless tour of the network floor where the selling of ideas, ethics, candidates and the truth as they deem it is of paramount importance and it does it through the showing of the female legs and sexuality. 

Charlize Theron superbly nails the twisty character of Megyn Kelly. Theron gets Kelly – her sensuality weaponised to the hilt, every smile calibrated to set off bombs in your body you didn’t you have and the walk to any spot timed to perfection. It is a role that Theron owns and she absolutely deserves her Best Actress nomination. 

Elsewhere, Margot Robbie’s Kayla also does a great job as a composite character. Kayla is essentially our surrogate. The scene of her in Ailes’ office as she is subtly asked to betray her soul to a predator is gobsmackingly scary. It is in this scene that the thought of “why can’t you just walk away” is extinguished because so many elements are in play. The conversation is not immediately discernible as sexual harassment, but Ailes is a skilled predator in playing the game of backing off and pushing it further. When all else fails, he gently, Iike a little lamb, holds you hostage with your career. It is just not easy to stand up and walk away from that. 

Bombshell feels like a greatest hits package – we get all the momentous moments that change history. Don’t accept the unacceptable; speak up; get help; say no to the objectification of your body; stand up to sexual harassment in your workplace. If the message is blunt and the plot’s denouement stodgy, it is all smoothed out by the fine acting. Credit must be given for a nuanced way of telling the story, but it feels over-packed with many pulled punches. What should detonate with stand-up chest-thumping fervour becomes just a flurry of small explosions with little impact.

3.5 / 5

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