Movie review: 'Bombshell'

February 25, 2020

‘BOMBSHELL’ got acting nominations in the last Oscar rites for Charlize Theron as best actress and Margot Robbie as best supporting actress. It is based on the stories of the women at right-wing cable network Fox News who confronted their CEO, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment. It’s now showing locally so go, rush to watch it as it might not last very long.

The movie opens with Charlize playing Megyn Kelly, a top newscaster about to be co-moderator of the Republican Debate in 2016 where she confronted Donald Trump about the disparaging remarks he made on women. This scene is important as it establishes her star power for standing up to Trump in his debasement of women. Trump then insults her in social media and too much to her surprise, people sided with Trump and she got a lot of bashing.

We then see Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, a co-anchor of the popular show, “Fox and Friends”, a blond who’s called the News Barbie. She is the one who first sues their boss, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), on July 6, 2016, for sexual harassment after she was demoted for refusing to play his kind of game. This is also the subject of the mini-series on “Showtime” entitled “The Loudest Voice”, with Russell Crowe playing Roger Ailes in the scandal that brought him down.

Lawyers initially discouraged Carlson to file a case and tell her about Rudi Bakhtiar, a beautiful Indian-American who was fired after refusing Ailes’ sexual advances. They’re willing to file the case, provided Carlson can get testimony from other women as evidence.

Margot Robbie plays Kayla Pospisil, a composite character representing various other women that Ailes have abused. She’s new with Fox and is invited by Ailes in his office where she is ordered to lift her skirt to show him her underwear.

Carlson sues Ailes and he denies her allegations, also asking female staffers to stand with him. A lot of them do, but Megyn Kelly initially chooses not to comment. Carlson was so sure other women would come forward, but no one did, dashing her expectations. Kelly then learns of other women harassed by Ailes. Kelly finally speaks up, along with 22 other women also victimized by Ailes.

Ailes is initially defiant but he’s told that Carlson has recorded conversations with him that will win the case. With this huge scandal, Fox big boss Rupert Murdoch tells him he will be fired and he will take over. Carlson eventually gets $20 million in damages but she’s forbidden to ever speak about the case.

Kidman has a vital role as whistle blower Carlson, but it’s Theron who stands out as Kelly as the film dwells more on her indecision whether to speak or keep quiet. And she really dominates the screen as she disappears in her role, made up to look like the real Kelly and even lowering her voice to sound like her. It’s truly a stunning transformation, but Theron also brings complexity to her interpretation of the conservative host who finally gets the guts to confront her boss for sexually harrassing her and other females.

The one who is the most sympathetic among them, though, is Robbie as wannabe weather girl Pospisil. The humiliating scene where Ailes orders her to raise her skirt higher and higher will make your stomach churn. And that scene where she breaks down on the phone talking to her friend Jess and confessing she did it with Ailes for her career is truly heartbreaking.

The other members of the huge ensemble supporting cast are all first rate, including Kate McKinnon as Jess, the closet lesbian producer with whom Pospisil has a one-night stand and who’s afraid to rock the boat; John Lithgow perfectly capturing the mindset and behavior of delusional men in power as Ailes; and Malcolm McDowell, the ferocious hero of “A Clockwork Orange” now looking old and gnarled as  Fox owner Rupert Murdoch.

Written by Charles Randolph as an engrossing piece of entertainment based on real events, Jay Roach directed it as a well crafted the film aiming to show how women can topple down the culture of abusive, predatory, powerful men if only they’d be united. No case was filed in court as all the settlements were made out of it, but the epilogue showed Fox paid a total of $50 million to the complainants. Ailes was made to resign but he, along with another abuser, TV host Bill O’Reilly, were also paid by Fox with a total of $60 million. It might not be good to speak ill of the dead since Ailes died of natural causes the following year he left Fox in 2016, but the weight of evidence brought against him is really quite damning.

This is the first movie to tackle the #MeToo phenomenon. We won’t be surprised to see something about former Fox host Bill O”Reilly who paid more millions than Ailes did to settle the many sexual harassment cases filed against him, or comedian Bill Cosby who’s now in jail, or even disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein who’s still in trial, in the not so distant future.