by Toby Woollaston
Verdict: Packs plenty of gun powder but doesn’t quite go off with a bang.
Director Jay Roach has gingerly tiptoed through the thorny but serious topic of sexual harassment in his latest film, the provocatively titled Bombshell. It’s a bold move for a director better known for the comedic contrivances of Austin Powers, but his latest certainly isn’t for laughs and plays out more like a politically explosive revenge film.
News anchor Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) kicks off a lawsuit against her boss (Fox Network bigwig Roger Ailes, played by a very slimy John Lithgow) for unfair demotion. The revelation that Ailes sexually harassed her is met with a ground-swell of cautious support, among them news anchor Megyn Kelly (Theron) and Kayla Pospisil (Robbie), that fast becomes a triple barrelled powder-keg of feminine rage planted deep within the bowels of Fox Network’s male-dominated ivory tower.
You’ll forgive Bombshell for the diversity drought—the Fox building, where this tale is predominantly set, is presented as a hotbed of white, conservative ambition. Cleverly, the sexual harassment case plays out to the backdrop of the Trump’s election campaign in which the film screams “see who you’ve let run the free world?!”. It’s fairly obvious where Bombshell’s political sentiments lie.
Unfortunately, Bombshell’s fever-pitched witch hunt does pay undue attention towards its more mechanical “cloak-and-dagger” plot points and timidly shies away from fully fleshing out its female characters. One notable scene in which a disconsolate Kayla (Robbie) weeps down the phone to her friend searching for reassurance, unfortunately, loses vital impact—well-acted, yes, but we just don’t know enough about her to care. As it stands we are held strangely at arm’s length which hints to screenwriter Charles Randolph’s (The Big Short) penchant for punchy political satire rather than deeply personal stories. Perhaps also a product of men telling women’s stories, but far be it from me to make that call.
Despite these grumbles Bombshell still offers engaging viewing thanks in part to Roach’s kinetic film-making but mostly due to the solid acting from the triumvirate of female A-listers who seem to get the most from Randolph’s pallid characterisations. It’s a well-intended film that enthusiastically nods towards the #metoo movement but never fully arrives at the point where feminine ambition intersects with moral fortitude.
See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.