If you’d have told me in about 2010 that Jay Roach, the director of the Austin Powers films, would make an Oscar-nominated feminist film about taking on powerful men with sexual harassment lawsuits, I would have questioned your sanity.
After all, his most famous films aren’t exactly remembered for their positive portrayals of women. They were either objects of Austin Powers’ lust, or weapons with guns instead of breasts.
However, since those films came to an end (a sort of end, a fourth film has been touted for years) he has been drifting into more serious topics, specifically in his last film Trumbo, which looked at the struggles of a writer blacklisted during McCarthy-era America for communist sympathies.
So it appears that Jay has a political streak in him that he is currently in the middle of exploring, and Bombshell is very much a film for the modern age, in fact, the events depicted in the film could be considered a catalyst for the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, leading to a string of victims coming forward with allegations.
The film focuses around the conservative American network Fox News, and its former CEO Roger Ailes, who was at the centre of the allegations from former, and current at the time, female employees. Specifically looking at the cases of Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and composite character Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie). The first two of these being representations of real-life women who blew the whistle on Ailes.
The film goes through peaks and troughs throughout its run-time, going between heart-wrenchingly affecting, and light comedic moments. At certain points, it feels like Jay’s instincts take over and he gravitates towards the more comedic side, but there are also times when we feel a strong pair of hands on the reins, portraying the events with the gravitas and emotional impact they deserve.
The moments of emotional depth are lent their gut-punch-like impact by some terrific performances. The highlight of these performances, for me, was Margot Robbie, despite her character being one of the fictional creations, she has some scenes that portrays the struggle these women went through perfectly, and her feelings of guilt afterwards. There’s one scene in particular towards the films conclusion that had such an incredible impact that it brought me seriously close to tears, a rare feat indeed.
She isn’t alone however, Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman also portray two women wrestling with their own interests, and the interests of all the women around them; and who may come after them. They are shown to be people with flaws, who are questioning their own implicitness in the misdemeanours of their all-encompassing boss. There’s a speech given by Theron about all the reasons why women (or anyone else) won’t come forward with allegations, it’s a power dynamic more than anything, and it perfectly frames what this film is trying to say.
I also liked how the film is structured. Rather than portraying it as a straight dramatic retelling, the creative team behind it tinker with the formula somewhat. Given some of the film a documentary-like feel, the characters address the camera, and by extension the audience. Giving us a tour of the building where the bulk of the narrative takes place, and informing us who the major players are. It’s very effective in this form, giving it a certain credence, and is successful at a format that is somewhat experimental in feel, it’s an angle I think Vice tried last year, but where that film failed was telling the story of a man who wasn’t likeable or relatable, whereas this film has characters that are, while flawed, somewhat empathetic.
I do feel like it is a bit scattershot in its approach, but as a film with a message, and a relevant one at that, it sticks to its guns, makes us sympathise with the victims, and more importantly, doesn’t pull any punches towards the guilty party, John Lithgow also deserves a mention here for making Ailes seem innately hate-able just by the way he sits, dominating the scenes like Jabba the Hutt, barking demands from his chair and shouting down anyone who dares speak up, he’s the classic character who thinks he’s untouchable, and even when he’s brought down, still won’t admit any fault. He’s a classic narcissist portrayed excellently here.
In conclusion then, I feel like Bombshell’s timely release makes it seem all the more poignant, an interesting structure plays home to some fantastic performances that are being rightly recognised by award ceremonies now. A drastic turnaround from Roach’s early works, it shows a strong political ear and a dynamic way of portraying difficult issues with an easily approachable touch, but one that can land a hammer-like blow to the audiences emotions.