Bombshell Review TIFF 2019

The Plot

A dramatic depiction of the sexual harassment scandal which saw aging Fox News supremo Roger Ailes squaring off against many of the channels most prominent female anchors over historic allegations of sexual harassment and a toxic working environment.

The Good

Bombshell offers up an impressively vast cast of familiar Hollywood faces, doing earnest impersonations of prominent figures in cable news. The film’s leading trio of Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie obviously have more than enough combined screen charisma to hold audience’s attention on their own. Though they get added help from a typically compelling performance from John Lithgow as the film’s villainous figure Roger Ailes.

The film also has a slick production value that captures the artificially polished world of 24hr cable news and many of the cartoonish personalities that populate those screens. The film succeeds in looking and feeling authentic at the very least.

For those that already despise Donald Trump, Fox News and the republican side of the deeply divided American political landscape; this film will serve as a gleeful mockery of all at once. Indeed the film’s flattering award season recognition is clearly a form of back slapping thanks from those that most welcome this particular brand of political character assassination.

The Bad

Even a well-polished production and all-star cast can’t entirely hide Bombshell having several major narrative issues.

While breaking the forth wall and adopting a wryly comedic tone worked very well for lampooning the absurdity of the global financial crisis in The Big Short, it’s questionable how well screenwriter Charles Randolph’s approach fits the supposedly serious subject matter of sexual harassment. The film reaches for easy laughs and politically partisan parody at the cost of being able to give any serious dramatic weight to ostensibly sombre allegations.

The film’s comedic tone is at times both smug and glib, leaving little room for actual emotions and making it far too obvious just how much fun the vast ensemble of Hollywood stars are clearly having poking fun at their political adversaries.

Another key problem is that the film gives less screen time to actual real figures such as Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson in favour of shifting focus to the wholly fictional character played by Margot Robbie. Though Robbie’s invented role is meant to serve as a convenient stand in for the many other women involved in the scandal, it mostly just hopelessly blurs the line between fiction and reality. It’s also extremely unhelpful that Robbie’s character is an unashamedly two dimensional caricature. The character is a lazy cliché ridden stereotype of an implausibly naïve and hypocritical evangelical conservative.

This invented figure serves the dual purpose of allowing the film to more directly mock conservative news audiences and to amplify the mostly lukewarm drama involving real events and actual people. It severely undermines the weight of the real scandal that the only actual moments of abuse/harassment depicted in the film are in fact fictions. Even then the film still shy’s away from depicting any particularly graphic traumas. Even in the usually sensationalised movie version of this scandal, nothing much ever actually seems to happen. At least nothing that audiences actually get to experience for themselves.

While many will proudly praise this film as a timely ‘me too’ themed drama. It’s had to avoid recognising that Bombshell mostly just serves as a way for Hollywood to redirect the focus of those issues away from itself and onto convenient political targets. Scratching away the film’s brittle veneer of progressive feminism seems to reveal it to truly be a simple exercise in desperate damage limitation, cynically timed to cash in on current public interest and simultaneously distract from ongoing real life dramas such as the Harvey Weinstein trails.

The Ugly Truth

Bombshell is easy to watch because of its polished production value and attractive leads, but largely lacks any real substance or emotional sincerity. It’s also shamelessly open about its political allegiances and agendas. Meaning that ironically every criticism made of American cable news applies equally to this film. Bombshell is a self-serving drama that detonates with a whimper rather than exploding with a meaningful bang.

Review by Russell Nelson

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