(a film review by Timothy J. Verret)
I watched BOMBSHELL because I’m a big fan of Nicole Kidman’s work (her performance as Virginia Woolf in THE HOURS stands as one of the great female performances of all time). I also like Charlize Theron, who received a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar for her work in MONSTER, and Margot Robbie, who in I, TONYA played Tonya Harding and WAS Tonya Harding, giving a performance of rawness and incredible emotional depth. You take all that talent and you give them the subject matter of sexual harassment in the workplace, and you are bound to get one hell of a movie! And that is kind of what you get with BOMBSHELL, even if the fuse is not quite lit all the way.
I admit that I don’t like the topic of sexual misconduct; it hits too close to home. And this film which details the news-business women who came forward to bring down a sexual predator, Roger Ailes, the Chairman and CEO of Fox News, is compelling enough, mostly due to a screenplay that is sharp and witty, as well as the performances from the actresses mentioned above that are topnotch. The film did, however, lack an intensity for such a deep-seated issue. There was a “quiet” to the film that I don’t think did the seriousness of this subject matter justice. The justice was there, for sure, and served up nicely for the victims and naughtily for the perpetrator, but the absence of intense drama left many scenes a bit flat.
It’s worth exploring more than anything the performances in this film, which is usually in my bag of tricks for reviewing a film. Let me start with Charlize Theron who plays the lead. It is my understanding through watching the Special Features of the Blu-Ray that this was Theron’s project as actor and producer, and she was intimately involved in the creative process and clearly invested much acting research to get that sway and swagger and vocal prowess that was the infamous anchorwoman Megyn Kelly of Fox News. It was Kelly who really brought Fox News down, and Theron brought down the house with her incredible performance. Nicole Kidman, well known for her performance in TO DIE FOR, is a “to die for” actress. While her role might have paled in comparison to Theron’s towering achievement, Kidman can always be counted on for such richness in characterization and a fire she ignites and sustains in her multi-varied roles. I would have to say, though, that it was Margot Robbie’s performance that really floored me. It might have a lot to do with my great interest in emotional depth as a writer and actor and artist, and that Robbie’s character was the emotional center of the film. As mentioned, Robbie captivated as Tonya Harding in I, TONYA, and here in this film as Kayla Pospisil, Robbie gets to unload emotionally in a pivotal scene where she is talking with a fellow lesbian worker at Fox News and describing what Roger Ailes made her do and how it made her feel “dirty.” That is sexual abuse in its most basic terms; the abuser who should be the one who feels dirty is the one who makes the one abused take on his or her “dirt.” The one abused takes back that power by standing up tall and making the giants fall.
And now that I have gotten the actresses out of the way, we are left with John Lithgow as Roger Ailes. Lithgow has been well-reported as being one of the nicest actors around in the film industry. Many have lauded him as one so easy to work with and one who brings such profound humanity to characters such as this one, who is pretty subhuman in terms of humanity. Lithgow’s performances are always brilliant because he understands the back stories to his characters and infuses them with the full spectrum of personality traits and quirks, never creating a one-dimensional villain who just fumes but doesn’t charm. Lithgow is charming and he gives his characters, whatever their makeup, that necessary charm. Villains, despite their cruelty, tend to be very charming. Once again, watching the Special Features, the director and writer and three main actresses just went on and on about how wonderful Lithgow was to work with and how he made all their work seamless. Great actors will do that for other actors striving to keep up with these greats!
BOMBSHELL is an important movie because even if you are one, like me, who does not keep up with the news, it is obvious that sexual harassment cases are becoming unfortunately somewhat of the norm. This brings up for me the fall of the movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein. This man had it all and he lost it all. This is what happens when men rise to the top and get there by stepping on the toes and other parts of the body of others to keep these same others below them. It is something that society has taught men to revel in and while it is easier (if that’s the right word) to blame these men, we have to look at what society’s conventions are preaching to these men about needing to dominate a weaker species to be more of a man (as an animal welfare advocate, I am quite knowledgeable of how men have been taken this same stance toward animals).
A shout-out is in order for the hair and makeup and costume design in BOMBSHELL. It’s hard to keep three gorgeous actresses always looking gorgeous, but that was the case here and it was age appropriate and gender appropriate. Ironically, gender appropriate is what the women in this film were searching for; they wanted their turn at bat and not feel they had to play second base to get there (this was actually a line Kidman’s character delivered, “I hate playing second base.”) Women should not have to play second base for ANYTHING when it comes to their drive and determination to be all they can be in all that they attempt to do in the workplace and in the world.
BOMBSHELL drops a bomb on the important issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, even if the bomb was not entirely as explosive as I would have liked.