The very sexist, very right-wing empire of Fox News is in the centre of Bombshell, a film that blends fact and fiction to tell the story of how chairman Roger Ailes was publicly ousted of his perennial throne (not before taking home the very comfortable sum of $40 million). The title Bombshell— a sharp wordplay, reflects on the starring trio of Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie; a blonde royal flush of sorts. This cast plays to the advantage of director Jay Roach, who had to deal with the issue of portraying wildly public, controversial figures in a position of extreme vulnerability. Roach, however, rapidly tarnishes his head-start by incessantly attempting to mimic Adam McKay (Vice, The Big Short), a move that culminates in an evident lack of cohesion, inevitably obfuscating the central plot.
The leading trio does a competent job, with some particularly inspired sequences, but there is only so much they can do with a script that struggles to find its balance. Whilst Theron is a very well-rehearsed, almost stoic constant, Robbie crowns her performance with a scene that exhales sheer, uncontrolled emotion. As a naive Christian digital influencer, the young actress is the fictional contrast to the real-life anchors Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson (played respectively by Theron and Kidman) and symbolises the women who are just beginning to dip their toes into the dirty transactional dynamics long-established inside the high ranks of the organisation.
Despite having some lucid moments when approaching the perverted elements of abuse, the burning issue of women’s stories being told by men is very much present, especially when taking into consideration that this is not only a real story, but a story of the abuse sustained by the intrinsically patriarchal structure of the entertainment industry. Written and directed by men, Bombshell would undoubtedly benefit from having more women on board. The way Rupert Murdoch is twistedly portrayed as a hero towards the end, for example, makes one question some of the narrative choices employed by the creative team.
Nonetheless, it is important to give credit where credit is due and there are some tender, raw flickers of honesty here, one of them being the exploration of the impossible fight between the victims and their ever-consuming sense of guilt, a brawl with no winner announced. The women onscreen are subjected to not only sexual, but constant psychological abuse, and are slowly undermined by someone they can only fight back by risking their career and everything they worked tirelessly for. To be somewhat compliant is to rise professionally whilst standing their ground means placing a bet they are almost entirely certain to lose.
Swollen by its ambitions and lack of focus, the film ends up serving its actresses and their awards season stakes instead of using them to its service to communicate a crucial message that—if told correctly—would resonate in a very opportune moment. Ultimately, Bombshell leaves a bitter aftertaste, one unfortunately not remarkable enough to linger.
Bombshell is out in cinemas now
Rafaela Sales Ross is a proud Brazilian currently living in Scotland. She has a Masters in Film and Visual Culture, and has been diving deep into the portrait of suicide on film for a few years now. Rafa, as she likes to be called, loves Harold and Maude, The Before Trilogy, The Broken Circle Breakdown, Kleber Mendonça Filho and pretty much anything with either Ruth Gordon or Javier Bardem in it. You can find her on both Twitter and Letterboxd @rafiews