THREE STARS Three women have the power to bring Fox News and its chief executive to its knees.
Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie
Great title, true story. Leggy blondes seemed to be the anchor-woman of choice for Roger Ailes at his Fox News cable network. Set up to A) make Rupert Murdoch a fortune and B) to give the Republican Party a direct line to its base, Fox quickly became the dominant news network in the world under Ailes’ choking command. Sad, but true. So when truth about his inability to keep either his hands or penis to himself finally broke, it left the Murdochs no choice.
Three women - superstar anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), breakfast co-host Gretchen Carlson (feisty Nicole Kidman) and new talent Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) - are all, one way or another, victims of Ailes’ toxicity. When Gretchen is demoted out of the building, primarily for being a woman who speaks her mind, she takes the boss to court. Gretchen has a notebook and a long memory. Meanwhile Kayla has become the new object of his creepy affection and is given a Hobson’s Choice, something Megyn knows all too well. Stand up to Ailes and they’ll never work again. But will she stand alongside Gretchen and become a lightening rod for dozens of other frightened women, the consequence of which would be to change Fox forever?
Like Weinstein who came after him and turned the #metoo movement into a household name, the importance of this foundational story of Ailes’ power abuse can’t be underestimated. A pity then that it’s not better told, and the problem is largely a matter of tone. Writer Charles Randolph (THE BIG SHORT) knows his way around the politics of outrage and director Jay Roach (AUSTIN POWERS) knows comedy, however they seem to have a neutralising effect on one another for the humour in BOMBSHELL is undemanding, the emotional anger dialled down.
Broken fourth wall devices like Megyn’s introduction or character-nods to the camera frame the first half but get forgotten in the second, replaced with long expositional scenes that trip up the pace that Roach has set himself. It feels like two films, the one he wanted to make and the one he felt he had to make. Whist BOMBSHELL is detailed, it becomes unnecessarily burdened, wanting for the lightness neither Roach nor Randolph seem able to find. You begin to wonder what a woman, writer or director, would have made of it.
All that said, BOMBSHELL is a compelling portrait of workplace abuse levelled at women, and the untenable conditions at Fox News. Even without a chief as odious as Ailes it’s hard to imagine other outlets are much cleaner, where Roger’s maxim to get a head you gotta give a little head still holds sway. The story doesn’t pull punches and no one, not anchor Bill Reilly, the Murdochs, Rudi Giuliani nor Donald Trump get off lightly. Randolph comes out swinging and stays that way - how he got this script past the lawyers is one of the film’s great achievements. Add some splendid work by Theron, Kidman and Robbie and there’s a lot to like. So much, in fact, you want to like it a lot more than, in the end, you do.