“Bombshell” review by Alex and Nate Blake

Alex:

Bombshell follows Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) as they try to take down the giant that was Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) for the way he treats his female employees. This film does a really good job of giving us the facts and really showing what a piece of shit Roger Ailes was. This film is not without its flaws though. It tells the story as Fox News would like you to believe that it happened. Yes, in this specific instance, these women are heroes. The fact that they are also really problematic in their views and their actions on air is completely ignored. So, while this is a factual story based on true events, in my opinion, you really aren’t getting the whole story. This was just a point of personal annoyance though. It really didn’t impact the story that was told.

I was not super impressed with the performances, but they were adequate. Let me just say, the hair and make up team did a great job. Visually, the actresses really did look like the women they were portraying on screen. Beyond that though, the performances were just okay. Margot Robbie did a great job as Kayla, a composite character created for this narrative. This role really allowed her show she does have range as an actress. Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly felt like a caricature to me. She looked like Megyn Kelly and was attempting to sound like Megyn Kelly, but it felt really fake. Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson really worked for me. She was able to portray Carlson while still maintaining a sense of herself. You knew it was Kidman but you were able to see Gretchen Carlson in the role. There were also a slew of great supporting roles. Most notably, Kate McKinnon and John Lithgow. Thank god Kate McKinnon finally found someone to cast her in a good role. Hopefully, we start to see her in more roles like this.

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On a technical level, this film was pretty good, but there were some choices I did not enjoy. Let’s start with the good though. The script was very well written. Charles Randolph was able to create very realistic dialogue and craft characters that felt real. Even though these characters are based on real people, that doesn’t always translate well to film. He was able to craft a narrative that was believable and based in truth. I just wish he had created more of a realistic look inside of Fox News given the media landscape we all suffer through today.  Jay Roach (Game Change, Recount, etc.) did a pretty good job directing. This film was shot in a documentary style a la Vice and The Big Short. I wasn’t super fond of that choice just because it seemed like an unnecessary decision. There was a lot of breaking of the fourth wall that just became distracting after a bit. At least in Vice and The Big Short when they did that it was funny. But this film had very little humor. I think some more humor really would have gone a long way in terms of helping this narrative.

I really did not hate this movie. It was a fine way to waste two hours. And I knew going into it that I would have the narrative issues that I wrote about above. I just find it hard to take a film seriously that makes being a feminist the butt of most of its jokes. What these women are fighting for is one of the things feminists believe in. Women should be able to go to work every day without the fear of being sexually harassed or assaulted. The running gag though is that all of the women are very quick to say they aren’t feminists. I think it was a cheap way to pander to the Fox News crowd that may otherwise be alienated by this story. I am probably not the target demographic this film was made for. But, I think we need to expect more and hold filmmakers accountable when it comes to telling true stories on screen.

Nate:

I have to strongly, respectfully, disagree with much of your interpretation of the film and your views on some of the performances. I don’t see the “I’m not a feminist” running gags as the filmmakers tipping their hat to the Fox News crowd, it’s just them accurately depicting the attitude held by many of the people who work for the corporation. The irony of course is that what these women are fighting for is exactly what feminists want; equal treatment and respect in the workplace.

I do agree that the film falls short when it comes to showing the less likable sides Carlson and Kelly. We know Kelly defended blackface on broadcast television after the events in this film unfolded, and that during her time on Fox News she contributed to the paranoia and propaganda spread by the channel. Screenwriter Charles Randolph did a much better job of depicting both the likable sides as well as the questionable behaviors of a story’s lead characters in 2015’s The Big Short. He doesn’t achieve the same balance here. If you buy his script, a lot of the employees at Fox are secretly liberal, or far more liberal than these characters’ real life counterparts come across. The film could go further at exploring the culture at Fox News, but only scrapes the surface.

That said, I was far more impressed with Bombshell than you were. Charlize Theron would probably be my first choice to win the Oscar at this point. It’s just one of many great performances though, and Margot Robbie gets the most interesting arc. Her character is a composite and is how we initially witness the way Roger Ailes “promoted” female employees. It is gross and uncomfortable to watch, yet the script wisely shows restraint and shows just enough to convey how morally corrupt this man was without feeling like exploitation. I can understand why there hasn’t been a lot of awards discussion or even discussion period about John Lithgow’s performance as Ailes. Playing a character like this is certainly not something I or probably anyone else would like to be known for or even given prizes for, and most of the attention the film has received has rightfully gone to its actresses. That said, Lithgow does a tremendous job of embodying Ailes; his charming side, his paranoia, and of course, the creepy, corrupt part that we all know about thanks to not so distant headlines and documentaries like Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes (which I highly recommend seeing as well).

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So the main performances are all great. One weakness though is that clearly some stunt casting went on. For example, I was not impressed by the choice to have Richard Kind play Rudy Giuliani. I don’t have anything against the actor, he just seemed miscast. This is one of those films where it seems like an effort was made to have a recognizable face or big name play even the characters who only have a minute or two of screen time, and it’s distracting in some instances. On other occasions though, such as when Connie Britton shows up as Beth Ailes, the star power is quite successful.

My take would be to encourage you to see Bombshell. It’s an acting showcase, the writing is strong, if occasionally flawed, and it’s an important story told in an engaging manner.

 

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