Bombshell (2019)

*. We often hear about how there aren’t a lot of good roles for women in Hollywood. But Bombshell is a showcase for three of the biggest names, which is why I was drawn to it. I think Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie are both really good actors and Nicole Kidman is usually solid. (It’s not that I don’t like Kidman, just that I’m not as enthusiastic about her. You could say I’m not a fan.)
*. The stars all play well here, but I didn’t like Bombshell. This may be in part because, according to the notes I was making while watching it, I didn’t like any of the characters very much. This, in turn, raises a bit of a problem, since the movie ends with a warning not to let the fact that we don’t like these women prejudice us against their cause. So that’s a point taken.
*. But there’s more to my dislike of the movie than its attempt to make a hero out of Megyn Kelly. I just felt it was too preachy and conventional. It’s basically a #MeToo movie with not much to say about politics (aside from the office variety) or the media. Fox News might as well be any toxic work environment. I couldn’t help but feel this was leaving out an important part of the story.
*. The style adopted by Jay Roach (veteran of several previous political dramas) is pretty much in keeping with other torn-from-the-headlines movies of this time, most notably The Big Short. I didn’t think this was wise though, since there was nothing that complicated that needed explaining (by breaking the fourth wall, for example) and it had the effect of making what was happening seem less real and impactful.
*. I didn’t even recognize Theron at first, her make-up job (which won Kazu Hiro a second Academy Award) is that good. But that also underlined one of the real problems I had with Bombshell. The characters have no depth. They are basically just their make-up, or their professional masks. This may have been part of the point the movie was making about image in the “visual medium” of TV, but combined with the obvious heroes vs. villains nature of the plot it had the effect of flattening everything out. For example, we never even get any sense of what makes Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) tick. His lechery, if that’s what it is, seems automatic, even bored. Meanwhile, Malcolm McDowell’s Rupert Murdoch only gives us a glimpse of some more profound wickedness.
*. A braver movie would have run with the ambiguity and conflict, presenting us with characters less heroic and more compromised. But given the message it wanted to carry that was a road they didn’t want to risk going down. Instead we get a newly empowered Margot Robbie (playing a fictional victim of Ailes) going full Nora as she leaves Fox News in dramatic fashion. She’s gonna make it on her own. You go girl. Submit your own slogan.
*. The message is important, but it’s put across in a simplistic way that turns the movie into more of a Public Service Announcement than an effective or thought-provoking drama. A great cast, but in this case unnecessary.

2 thoughts on “Bombshell (2019)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    This didn’t quite land, even if the idea was interesting. Would like to have seen a full movie with McDowell as Murdoch, and it’s noteable that Trump still lionises Roger Ailes, even after this movie…

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I couldn’t help thinking that I’d rather just have watched a 45-minute documentary on these matters than this movie. And yeah, McDowell as Murdoch in a biopic would be really interesting. But it would have to be a movie that would go for the throat and I don’t know if anyone would dare that. Trump, of course, is shameless.


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