In BOMBSHELL – THE END OF SILENCE Director Jay Roach tackles the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News. At the center are three women who deal with the allegations in very different ways. We reveal more about this in our review.
Young blonde women walked in and out of Roger Ailes’ (John Lithgow) office. So does Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron).
The plot summary
Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) is the poster child of Fox News: blonde, attractive, sexy. At the conservative news station, beautiful legs are more in demand than investigative journalism and uncomfortable questions. When the star presenter takes on presidential candidate Donald Trump in front of the cameras, she can’t expect any support from above: station boss Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) is friends with Trump, and the riot candidate also gives Fox News top ratings – including with his sexist Twitter campaign against Megyn. Her experienced colleague Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) refuses to play “TV Barbie” any longer. As a result, her contract is not renewed “due to disappointing ratings” – while the ambitious editor Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) is promoted after a meeting behind Roger Ailes’ closed office door… When Gretchen sues her long-time boss for sexual harassment, Fox News immediately forms ” Team Roger.” Only Megyn remains suspiciously neutral, and Kayla is also silent. But how long?
Film producer Harvey Weinstein has to face the allegations of countless women accusing him of sexual abuse and rape in a New York court these days. The former head of the Weinstein Company faces a life sentence. Weinstein has lost his status as a Hollywood media mogul, even if he avoids conviction. The allegations that came to light in which Weinstein is said to have abused his power as a filmmaker to extort sexual services from actresses brought about a rethink in the dream factory. This not only gave rise to the hashtag #MeToo, but also to raising awareness of the gender imbalance in terms of pay, casting and artistic attention. Although the allegations against Weinstein first became public in October 2017, there had been a similar case over a year earlier, although it did not generate anywhere near a comparable wave of outrage. The American television presenter Gretchen Carlson, at the time one of the most popular on the Fox News Channel, made serious allegations against the channel’s boss Roger Ailes after her dismissal, which after some time was joined by many colleagues. In this episode, Ailes had to vacate his position as CEO. “Trumbo” director Jay Roach is now devoting his drama “Bombshell” to this very case because, despite its plot taking place before #MeToo, it naturally fits in perfectly with current events. And in fact, his film is, for long stretches, just as bitterly evil as it needs to be. The fact that it was mostly men who worked behind the scenes here is at best a blemish.
Shortly after her firing, Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) gets the ball rolling.
The screenplay for “Bombshell” comes from James Randolph, whose best-known work includes working on Adam McKay’s Oscar nominee “The Big Short . ” If you didn’t know better, you could probably mistake “Bombshell” for a McKay film. Because the way Charlize Theron’s character Megyn Kelly explains the hierarchies within the Fox Channel building in the first few minutes of the film and continues to act as a narrator who addresses the audience directly is strongly reminiscent of the humorous meta-gimmicks, with which McKay in his last films introduced the audience to otherwise rather dry topics such as the financial crisis and its effects on the US real estate market, as well as the life of the former Vice President Dick Cheney . Now, an event as emotionally disturbing as the ritualized abuse of women hardly needs any staging tricks like typical McKay mechanisms to give “Bombshell” more entertainment value. Ultimately, the topic is simply far too serious for that. But the decision to use a narrator several times as well as sometimes more, sometimes less ironic graphics has the main purpose of creating an overview of the difficult to understand media landscape. When at some point you’re only talking about individual floors or the characters are juggling dozens of different names, you can keep track of things as long as you’ve at least paid some attention beforehand. Above all, Jay Roach succeeds in emphasizing how Roger Ailes was able to keep his machinations secret for so many decades: Apart from a “better look the other way than risk your own job” policy, Fox News Channel simply has so many different people at work in so many different areas that rumors quickly fizzle out and accusations get stuck in their early stages.
To deal with the events, author Charles Randolph chose three different main characters. Two of them are not only based on real role models within the Fox scandal (Robbie’s character was written specifically for the film), but also reflect women at different career positions with different emotional ties to their TV station. This is a clever move that, on the one hand, illustrates how exhausting it is for people like Gretchen Carlson who no longer want to remain silent to find comrades-in-arms for their cause. On the other hand, the experienced Megyn Kelly and Kayla Pospisil, who recently joined the station, show how differently people can deal with such allegations – even if both could contribute a lot as potential co-plaintiffs. Megyn presents herself as a presenter who is always fighting for her image and the seriousness associated with it, who prefers to calculate instead of blindly following Gretchen Carlson’s call. It’s not for nothing that Charlize Theron (“Long Shot”) received an Oscar nomination in the “Best Actress” category for her performance, as she manages to hide the emotional side of her personality in favor of a callousness that the real Megyn already has Kelly engaged in various verbal exchanges with high-ranking politicians (including Donald Trump). Her role as the bold strategist meets the counter part with Margot Robbie’s (“I, Tonya”), also Oscar-nominated performance; that of the candidate presenter, emotionally traumatized by recent cases of abuse, who sees all her professional skins slipping away if Roger Ailes is co-accused. With her torn acting that sometimes casts the plot in an uncomfortable light, Robbie does an excellent job of providing an answer to the often obvious question of why women don’t immediately go to the police in such cases.
In their focus on the Roger Ailes abuse scandal, it was important for the creators to stick very closely to the true circumstances – even if the thematic focus sometimes allows for the criticism that all the other things that go wrong at Fox Channel (the topic Racism, for example, only receives attention between the lines), is ignored in “Bombshell”. Nevertheless, they add scenes, for example based on witness statements, to show what really happened behind the closed doors of the Fox CEO. John Lithgow (“Daddy’s Home 2”) On the one hand, he acts as Ailes, who is simply intimidating and disgusting, but on the other hand, he appears very authentic in his naive belief that everything he is doing here is completely okay. The (age) make-up, which was nominated for the Academy Award, also contributes to this and is intended to make the two leading actresses Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron more similar to their real role models. This seems quite strange, especially in the case of Kidman, and would hardly have been necessary to emphasize that all of this really happened here. On the contrary: with so much mask on his face, Kidman even seems limited in her facial expressions, which is why, at least in terms of acting, everything that deals with Theron and Robbie’s characters is more exciting. But in terms of content, Charles Randolph sticks to showing the slowly grinding wheels of justice using Kidman’s Gretchen, whereas Megyn and Kayla are given a much larger profile. In any case, “Bombshell” is always at its strongest when the three women (and many others with them, albeit mainly in silence) come together. This not only highlights the important message about how important it is for women to stick together in such cases. But it also combines three very unique types of acting on the screen.
Conclusion: Adam McKay light: “Bombshell” dissects the 2016 abuse scandal surrounding Fox News Channel boss Roger Ailes as a strong portrait of three presenters with different attitudes to the events, which provides extensive insight into the channel’s processes and the later investigations offers. Strongly acted, entertainingly staged and with the necessary amount of malice.
“Bombshell” can be seen in USA cinemas from February 13th.