Jay Roach’s Bombshell, having had little in the way of preceding fanfare, dropped onto our collective radars with the unveiling of its memorable teaser trailer back in August. Memorable because it said so much with so little – even if one didn’t recognize Charlize Theron’s Megyn Kelly, or Nicole Kidman’s Gretchen Carlson, or had any knowledge of what went down at Fox News in 2016 under Roger Ailes’ leadership, it didn’t really matter. The teaser latched onto something that almost everyone can immediately relate to: a good old fashioned workplace scandal. The awkwardness of open secrets becomes amplified in the closed confinement of a simple elevator ride, and the trailer held its audience captive to the type of tantalizing mystery you can’t help but want to be in on.
The truth is that we are already in on it. The events leading to Roger Ailes resignation from Fox News were well documented across traditional and social media at the time, almost a year before the #MeToo movement began to gain serious traction. In Bombshell, Jay Roach seeks to take us inside the organisation, side-by-side with key players, as the drama unfolds in real time. Once the context is established, the question then becomes whether the dramatization of the events brings anything new to the table, or is told in a captivating enough fashion to make old news feel fresh and interesting. Unfortunately, Bombshell hits neither of these marks, instead offering an obnoxiously obvious caricature-filled recap, an offensive antipode to the comparative nuance of its own teaser.
Theron is in fantastic form, and Kidman and Margot Robbie put in some fine work too, but they, along with the rest of the cast, are let down by the film’s determination to violently repel even the faintest notion of subtlety. The dialogue is almost exclusively expository, the script is hammy as hell, and this, combined with a handful of fourth wall breaks (mostly invoked to elicit a cheap chuckle) and other such tacky narrative devices, lead you to feel like Roach had no intention of inviting any form of unsolicited thought to the party. He’s so intent on ramming home an already blatant message that it turns the key players into cartoon characters and the events into a farce.
It makes me wonder who exactly this approach is intending to reach. It takes the form of a sly, knowing wink, a back-slapping game of ‘gotcha’ played well after the fact, and certainly not any type of serious exposé of the toxic cultures and abusive workplace practices Fox News, and many other organisations, have been guilty of. The lack of depth afforded to the characters doesn’t even allow for the empowerment of its female characters – Margot Robbie’s up-and-comer is the only one to experience any type of (forced) growth, and it turns out her role is completely fictitious. This feels like an acknowledgement that the truth is not always as compelling as fiction, but I sincerely doubt that this should have been the case here.
Maybe Bombshell would have hit differently prior to #MeToo, but in today’s hyper-aware environment, it feels useless rather than useful. Even more so when you consider that the Russell Crowe and Naomi Watts-led TV miniseries The Loudest Voice, based on the same series of events, has already been to air. The way Bombshell plays out makes it feel like a far better fit for a TV show too. There is nothing cinematic about a series of admittedly striking impersonations being rolled out to provide a long-form summary of what amounts to a 10-minute news reel. It doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, but to my chagrin, it takes great delight in shoving it down our throats again anyway.
This forced-feeding left a rather unsavory taste in my mouth. Bombshell serves as a showcase for the acting talents of its cast, but precious little else. Anyone with half a mind will likely feel insulted by the primary school pantomime on offer here. There is undoubtedly a time and a place for stories like this to be told, but this is not how you do it.