Harvey Weinstein was back in the news this week. The disgraced movie mogul said in an interview, “My work promoting women has been forgotten.” That comment didn’t go down well with the 23 women and their supporters who have accused him of sexual assault. In response, the women issued a statement saying, “He will be remembered as a sexual predator and an unrepentant abuser who took everything and deserves nothing.” Another unrepentant sexual abuser who many would argue deserves nothing either is former Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. His fall from grace is recounted in the new film, BOMBSHELL, by director Jay Roach (TRUMBO).
Featuring an all-star cast headed by Charlize Theron (TULLY; ATOMIC BLONDE), Nicole Kidman (AQUAMAN; THE BEGUILED; LION; PADDINGTON; GRACE OF MONACO), Margot Robbie (ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD; MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS; GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN; I, TONYA; THE LEGEND OF TARZAN; THE BIG SHORT) and John Lithgow (TV’s THE CROWN; PET SEMATARY; LOVE IS STRANGE), BOMBSHELL turns the clock back to those carefree days of 2015 when Fox News host Megyn Kelly (Theron) asked GOP candidate Donald Trump on air about his tendency to publicly denigrate women. If you remember your recent history, Trump deflected the question with a quip about Rosie O’Donnell and later responded with a barrage of tweets denigrating Kelly specifically and women in general. Roger Ailes (Lithgow, under what must have been dozens of kilos of prosthetics and makeup) was less than supportive of his star performer’s challenge to the GOP frontrunner. Trump was clearly an ardent watcher of Fox News as were his loyal fans, and for Ailes that meant higher ratings and more revenue. Just a few months later, Fox let go of another one of its stars – Gretchen Carlson. The former Miss America (1989) had been on the outs with Ailes for a number of years. She had been the pretty blonde with the legs on Fox & Friends for eight years until 2013 when Ailes moved her to her own show at 3 pm, a time when the network’s viewing audience is typically at its smallest. The final straw seemed to come when Carlson appeared on camera without makeup to discuss how our culture has become sexualised, prompting Ailes to allegedly berate her in front of her co-workers. After Carlson was let go, she decided to go public with the toxic culture at Fox News and sue Ailes (not Fox) for sexual harassment. Ailes, though, wasn’t going to go down without a fight and he rallied the troops at the network (called “Team Roger”) to put pressure on other women, including Kelly, from joining the lawsuit.
While BOMBSHELL tells an interesting story and is presented in a sometimes “Can-you-believe-this?” way with the women breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience, it unfairly paints Carlson and Kelly in a kind light. Let’s not forget that Carlson was for years spouting conspiracy theories and anti-gay rhetoric on air while Kelly, when given the opportunity to confront Trump face-to-face and call him out for his misogynistic behaviour, gave him a huge pass all for the sake of pandering to his base and keeping their eyes, ears, hearts and minds glued to Fox News. Perhaps this fact was on the mind of Oscar®-winning screenwriter Charles Randolph (THE BIG SHORT) when composite character Kayla Pospisil (Robbie), representing all the women who aren’t household names but who were harassed by Ailes over the years, asks Kelly why she didn’t speak up earlier about her own abuse ten years earlier. I hate to say it but for Kelly and Carlson, they were silent for so long because they loved their seven-figure annual salaries more than their concern for protecting younger women from falling into Ailes’ web.
As a movie though, BOMBSHELL is quite an achievement in makeup. Every actor looks so remarkably similar to their real counterparts that it’s often distracting, and you may find yourself focusing more on how they look than on what their characters are saying. Theron is incredible as Kelly. With the tiniest of prosthetic tweaks, the actress is a dead ringer for the journalist. Even more impressive is how Theron was able to match Kelly’s timbre and cadence. Close your eyes and you’ll think you’re hearing Kelly.
That being said, BOMBSHELL is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s good but not as hard-hitting as it should have been. The biggest problem is the story’s structure that gives little screen time to the three protagonists at once. There are three stories here but they don’t come together until the end and, even when they finally do, the intersection is short-lived.
Carlson, as recently as yesterday, said that she’s working to get her gag order lifted so that she can finally tell her story. Whether or not that happens, it would be naïve to think that sexual harassment in network news, Hollywood or any other workplace setting has ended just because men like Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein have been toppled from their positions of power.
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