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by Rob Gonsalves

"Sympathy for the devils."
4 stars

The rousing Oscar-chaser "Bombshell" dramatizes a case of bad people doing a good thing at the expense of a worse person.

The filmmakers surely know that the audience for this movie will have mixed feelings at best about its kinda-sorta heroines — Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), the Fox News stars who accused the network’s CEO, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), of sexual harassment in 2016. The film partly runs on the irony that these women, who fit few people’s definition of “feminist,” paved the way for the next year’s necessary #MeToo wave. What’s implied, of course, is that if Ailes the old perv had kept his zipper shut, the women might still be on Fox News assuring viewers that Santa is white (Kelly) or that transgender students shouldn’t use school restrooms (Carlson) — except that it isn’t just Ailes, it’s the entire sexist corporate culture that enabled and cloaked him (up to a point). He’s just one of the biggest beetles on the dunghill.

A major theme of Bombshell, and something that eventually bites Roger Ailes in the ass, is the importance of narrative. Fox News addicts, we are told, prefer certain narratives that either frighten or titillate, and if a story does both, that’s your lead. Another irony is that the women provide the foundation of Ailes’ undoing, but it’s a more powerful man — Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell) — who seals the deal. It’s not that Murdoch cares all that much about the lupine culture that treats women like interchangeable blonde heads atop interchangeable tight bodies. It’s that Ailes, facing allegations from dozens of female employees, has not gotten out in front of the story. Ailes thinks he can just harrumph and lawyer up, but the world that used to close ranks around reptiles like him seems to be closing up shop. He who lives by the narrative dies by the narrative.

Theron and Kidman, as well as Margot Robbie as the fresh-faced composite character Kayla Pospisil, use every tool in their belts to make us care about the one-time faces of bigotry. (Post-Fox, Megyn Kelly continued to be awful on her NBC morning show; her defense of blackface in Halloween costumes was the last straw for the Peacock, who sent her on her way in October 2018.) Bombshell doesn’t present these women as entirely innocent or blameless (we see a snippet of Kelly’s “Jesus and Santa are white” moment), but we do see them through the eyes of less powerful others, like Kate McKinnon’s character, who works on Bill O’Reilly’s show — which would seem a cruel enough fate — and is also a closeted lesbian and Democrat. Why would such a woman work in the conservative lions’ den? As she puts it, she applied everywhere else, and only Fox hired her — and now that she works for Fox, no one else will hire her. The comedic whirlwind McKinnon dials her energy down to a nervous buzz and files what is, for me, the most painful out of all the performances. Some of the other women, like Allison Janney’s Fox lawyer Susan Estrich, manage to smuggle in subtle signs of disgust at what, as women, they are asked to do.

Jay Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph seem to know they can’t end a story like this on a note of triumph. It is, after all, the story of a big fat shark taken down by smaller sharks, and those smaller sharks will still eat you. Kidman and especially Theron keep us engaged with their characters’ struggles while maintaining a certain coldness. What they’ve had to do to hold on to power, or what they know as power, has roughened their souls as well as their knees (and, the movie whispers, being numb of soul may be an advantage in rising up the Fox News ladder). Margot Robbie, whose Kayla has drunk the Kool-Aid, rips out Kayla’s guts near the end and shows us the emotional carnage wrought by Ailes and (crucially) many, many men like him.

Has the ideology Kayla learned so well from Fox News been challenged for her by the experience? Who knows? Who cares? These women may be awful, or in training to be awful, but if we can’t even agree that nobody regardless of their politics deserves to be raped, then we can’t even agree.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32987&reviewer=416
originally posted: 12/27/19 10:16:26
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User Comments

3/04/20 Corona Kept my interest which makes it worth a look 4 stars
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