Thursday, December 26, 2019

Movie Review: Bombshell

Directed by: Jay Roach.
Written by: Charles Randolph.
Starring: Charlize Theron (Megyn Kelly), Nicole Kidman (Gretchen Carlson), Margot Robbie (Kayla Pospisil), John Lithgow (Roger Ailes), Allison Janney (Susan Estrich), Malcolm McDowell (Rupert Murdoch), Kate McKinnon (Jess Carr), Connie Britton (Beth Ailes), Liv Hewson (Lily), Brigette Lundy-Paine (Julia Clarke), Rob Delaney (Gil Norman), Mark Duplass (Doug Brunt), Stephen Root (Neil Mullen), Robin Weigert (Nancy Smith), Amy Landecker (Dianne Brandi), Mark Moses (Bill Shine), Nazanin Boniadi (Rudi Bakhtiar), Ben Lawson (Lachlan Murdoch), Josh Lawson (James Murdoch), Alanna Ubach (Judge Jeanine Pirro), Andy Buckley (Gerson Zweifach), Brooke Smith (Irena Briganti), Bree Condon (Kimberly Guilfoyle), D’Arcy Carden (Rebekah), Kevin Dorff (Bill O’Reilly), Richard Kind (Rudy Giuliani), Michael Buie (Bret Baier), Marc Evan Jackson (Chris Wallace), Anna Ramsay (Greta Van Susteren), Jennifer Morrison (Juliet Huddy), Ashley Greene (Abby Huntsman), Ahna O’Reilly (Julie Roginsky), Lisa Canning (Harris Faulkner), Elisbeth Rohm (Martha MacCallum), Alice Eve (Ainsley Earhardt).
Hollywood is still not quite ready to grapple with the #MeToo movement on screen – so it makes sense that so far we’ve gotten two depictions of Roger Ailes’ downfall this year, and we haven’t seen a Harvey Weinstein film yet. First there was the TV show The Loudest Voice, where Russell Crowe’s Ailes was the main character, and had a wide ranging outlook – from him building Fox News, to his downfall. And now there is Bombshell, in which John Lithgow’s Ailes takes a backseat to three female characters – Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson and Margot Robbie as Kayla – a fictionalized amalgamation of many of the Fox staffers who suffered Ailes’ harassment over the years. The Fox News story is easier to deal with than #MeToo, because it predates it by a year or so, and because it gives liberal Hollywood a chance to poke at one of their most hated targets anyway. Bombshell is a tricky movie – it tries to walk the line between fun and weighty, and it doesn’t always get the balancing act right. Theron and Robbie – and to a lesser extent Kidman – essentially save the movie, while at the same time you realize the film doesn’t quite know how to handle them completely. They did, of course, bring down Ailes. They also contributed to the culture of Fox News, which led to Trump and a host of other sins – but the film just kind of nods that direction, before basically ignoring it.
The film was directed by Jay Roach – who is of course known for his comedies like the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents movies, but has also been doing some fine political movies for HBO in the past decade like Recount, about the 2000 Presidential election and the legal battle that ensued after, Game Change, about Sarah Palin’s rise to prominence in 2008 and All the Way, about Lyndon Johnson passing the Civil Rights Act. It was written by Charles Randolph – one half of the team who wrote The Big Short. One of the weaker aspects of the film is when the film tries to do Big Short type stuff – with Theron’s character addressing the camera and audience directly at times – a gimmick that it appears Roach realized didn’t work, and only does a couple of times near the beginning, and then abandons.
It’s at its best depicting the women. A lot has already been written about Theron’s physical transformation into Megyn Kelly – and while I’m not going to say one of the most famous actresses in the world in unrecognizable, the makeup work really does a great job at transforming her so that you immediately know who you are supposed to be watching. Theron also completely nails Kelly’s voice and intonation – and also really gets under Kelly’s tough exterior – showing us the principled woman – the only one at Fox who was willing to stand up to Trump, the only one still with a job and power who willing went against Ailes as well. The film would have been stronger had it dealt with some of the contradictions in Kelly a little bit more though – we get the “Santa is white kids” moment only in passing, we get only a brief conversation about how she lets Trump off the hook in an interview. There are contradictions and compromises Kelly made along the way – the type that doomed her when she left Fox – and the film doesn’t seem to really want to address them head-on. It would have been stronger had it done so. Still, it’s another great performance by Theron – who does carry the movie.
The three major supporting roles work as well. Kidman doesn’t quite have the role Theron does – but does what she can with Gretchen Carlson – who cheerfully went along with the sexism and misogyny on-air, while trying to do something about it off air. Once she leaves Fox though – and files the lawsuit that kicks everything off – she’s pretty much sidelined, with only some scenes where she wonders if anyone will support her. John Lithgow is wonderful as Ailes – even if it’s a one note role – and it also requires a physical transformation of him. Lithgow seemingly loves to be the slimy, manipulative Ailes – and he’s great at showing just what he does to get women to do what he wants, and the petty, childlike whining when he’s called on it. Robbie has a difficult role as Kayla – she has no real life person to draw from, and at first you wonder if she’s just going to be playing generic Fox blonde. But she shines in the film’s most uncomfortable sequences – the extended one-on-ones with Ailes where she grows increasingly uncomfortable, but keeps going anyway. And she’s wonderful when dealing with the fallout from that – and the effect it has on this formerly enthusiastic, smiling, ambitious young woman. The talented supporting cast also fills in their roles nicely – from those playing famous Fox personalities, to those playing generic staffers.
The tone of the film is all over the place, and I’m quite sure Roach ever really nails the tricky balancing act that he’s going for here. On one hand, he does want to make this an entertaining, Big Short style expose on Fox News – on the other, he knows how serious the subject matter is. Individual scenes all work fine – but the transitions can be whiplash inducing at times.
Still the film works mostly because the performances anchor it – even when the film itself doesn’t feel confident in what it’s doing, the performances do. Hollywood is still grappling with #MeToo – still figuring out how to tell these stories. Going after Fox News gives them a comfortable distance at which to do so. Sooner or later though, that comfortable distance will need to go away.

No comments:

Post a Comment