Bombshell movie review: Women take centre-stage

Updated: Jan 03, 2020, 07:42 IST | Sonia Lulla | Mumbai

Bombshell sees anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) courting controversy for her comments on candidate Donald Trump, and finds herself at the receiving end from both internal and external forces

A still from Bombshell
A still from Bombshell

A: Biography
Director: Jay Roach
Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie

As one of the three protagonists of Bombshell is caught in traffic on a rather rainy day in New York, the camera zooms to a flash sign that reads: "Stay in lane". It's among the most poignant scenes of Jay Roach's biographical drama — based on the sexual harassment scandals that led to the ouster of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes in 2016 — a warning of sorts for the women who contemplate whether they must take on one of the most powerful media persons of the time.

Of course, we know what happens when you don't 'stay in lane'. You miss out on a promotion; worse still, get fired; or are forced to put up a debilitating fight that, in the end, results in very little. Contemporary cinema has given us a glimpse of precisely what 'victory' in a sexual harassment scandal may seem like: Netflix's 13 Reasons Why invited the wrath of viewers who criticised the pithy three-month probation given to a 'rich' rapist as punishment, after 26 gut-wrenching episodes depicting his misdoings. The makers of the show welcomed people's reaction, suggesting that viewers 'should be angry', because that's all that happens to the rich in real life. We don't even need cinema to tell us how bleak the situation is when the cases of harassment around us constantly talk about the little that women have achieved, despite exposing an assaulter.

Does Bombshell leave you with similar dissatisfaction? Perhaps. Then again, this is based on true events.

Throwing light on the gender politics of Fox News during the 2016 presidential campaign, the film sees anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) courting controversy for her comments on candidate Donald Trump, and finds herself at the receiving end from both internal and external forces. "I'm the story," she laments on realising how Trump's personal remarks following her criticism of him, are set to train attention on her, instead of on the next leader of America.

Battling sexist remarks and harassment at the workplace, host Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) sues the network's powerful CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), following her termination. She highlights how women's promotions at the organisation depended on their willingness to surrender to the sexual demands of the men in power. Meanwhile, new hire Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), unaware of the media house's toxic work environment, is determined to get an on-air role at the network. When Fox executives authorise an investigation from an outside firm, the three women realise that their experiences aren't unusual.

Watch the trailer of Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie starrer Bombshell here

Off screen, we know that Carlson's lawsuit, supported by multiple other women, led to the removal of Ailes, then 76, by his boss, Rupert Murdoch. With the disgrace attached with him, he walked out of the company with a hefty pay-check, and served as an advisor to Trump for a year, before his death at 77.

Few biographical accounts have made such appropriate use of their fictional additions as Bombshell does. Even as we know the story of Kelly and Carlson, it is Robbie's Pospisil — a fictional role — that brings forth the true horror of what a workplace assault victim endures. A particularly disturbing scene has her encounter Ailes in his office, where she hopes to make a pitch for herself as a promising reporter. He unnerves her by asking her to 'stand and twirl' a little to see if she is suited for the 'visual medium', before psychologically exploiting her further. Robbie's part is essential in unveiling the trauma that several Fox News employees would have encountered before they brought Ailes crashing to the ground.

Theron is a delight to watch. Despite the umpteen questions that can be raised on her decisions, she still makes Kelly acquire the unhindered support of viewers. Following her fine act in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Robbie plays Pospisil with crucial vulnerability. Her act makes us only more eager for her next, Birds of Prey.

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