At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Bombshell “2019”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Bombshell “2019”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Drama/Stars: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney, Rob Delaney, Mark Duplass, Liv Hewson, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Richard Kind, Stephen Root, Mark Moses, Ben Lawson, Josh Lawson, Alanna Ubach, Bree Condon, Kevin Dorff, Madeline Zima, Michael Buie, Holland Taylor, Marc Evan Jackson, Anne Ramsay, Jennifer Morrison, Ashley Greene, Lisa Canning, Elisabeth Röhm, Alice Eve, P. J. Byrne, Tony Plana/Runtime: 109 minutes

I think it is safe to start this review off dear reader by letting you in on a little detail about myself that only those closest to me know. That being that I might not have an opinion on 99.8% of the issues that face the world around us all on a fairly regular basis, but there is one that I can say for sure that I do and that would be in regards to the treatment of people in the workplace. Simply put, my belief says that no matter what not only should everyone in an office environment regardless of their position in the company or their gender/race/creed/sexual orientation be treated with respect and class, but they should all also be willing to do the same in their own workplace interactions as well. Not just because it’s the best or most effective way to run an office though it definitely is that. Rather, it’s because of the simply stated supposition that what is true and right for one should be true and right for all. As you can strongly suspect then, I was definitely one of those who found myself disgusted and utterly revolted by the Weinstein and Ailes scandals. Not just because I couldn’t believe people in leadership positions such as those two slugs held would willingly put people through that kind of hell, but because never once can I recall either one ever holding themselves publicly accountable. Yet as floored as I was by these scandals, I was also very much aware in the back of my mind when they were taking place that it was only going to be a matter of time before the lion’s paw of Hollywood (and no I’m not talking about MGM Studios) snatched them in their claws and decided to make a mini/limited series, a movie, or both (as does tend to happen at times) about both the events at the heart of these respective scandals, the parties involved, and ultimately how the two sleazy men responsible for these atrocities were eventually exposed for the monsters they are. Yet in a move that surprised even me dear reader, it was not the Weinstein saga that the land of movie magic chose to handle first. Instead, they chose to go after Roger Ailes first in 2019 with both a biographical limited series that had Russell Crowe as Ailes and a slice of cinema known as Bombshell which functioned as an adaptation of the various statements made by members of the group of women who exposed Ailes and his crimes. It is also a movie that, despite a few issues here and there, is actually one that is not only genuinely potent and extremely well-made on both sides of the camera, but is also one that will most assuredly raise your anger level more than a few notches by the time it’s over. Suffice it to say then that Bombshell might not be a perfect critique, but it certainly manages to still get quite a bit of its scathing rebuke of Ailes and the workplace environment he headed to land on target and thus make the impact on you that it is striving to make.

The plot is as follows: Taking us back in time to the “long ago year” of early/mid 2016, Bombshell provides us with a look at a trio of women who, despite possessing many differences, all have two particular things in common. The first being they all work for that noteworthy (or infamous dependent on your perspective) news channel Fox News and the second is they all find themselves having to deal with a particularly noteworthy member of the lecherous boys club for a boss who goes by the name of Roger Ailes. The first of these women that we follow is Megyn Kelly who, at this time in her life, had managed to get where a lot of aspiring female anchors would love to be. That being not only as the host of her own show, but also getting the chance to take on a lot of the more desirable assignments including being a moderator for the 2016 GOP debate for President of the United States. Yet, unlike a lot of her peers, we see that Kelly during the debate is willing to take a particular candidate, some guy named Donald Trump, to task for how he has treated women in the past. An action that quickly sees her chastised by both Ailes as well as become a very unwelcome focus for Trump and his staunch support base. The second woman is fellow anchor Gretchen Carlson who at one time held Kelly’s spot of prestige at the network, but as of late had been seeing her career enter a bit of a downward slump due to having the courage to speak her mind on a lot of things. A courage that soon sees her also acquire Ailes’ fury when she refuses to not showcase herself in the way that women on Fox were unofficially expected to. Finally, our last main character that we follow is a woman named Kayla Pospisil who, despite only having recently started working for Fox, has big ambitions. Ambitions that soon see her attracting Ailes’ attention in a rather….unpleasant manner. Yet when Carlson, who by this point has had enough of Ailes and his sleazy ways, decides to sue the guy for sexual harassment we see that not only does this send shockwaves through the network as a whole, but it also causes Kelly and Pospisil to have to make a decision. That being will they follow in Gretchen’s footsteps and take what they have been through with Ailes public and thus put their careers with the network on the line, but at least ensure that justice is done or will they stay silent and look the other way? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader….

Now right off, it should be noted that the work done behind the camera on this film does manage to immerse itself into what amounts to an, for all intents and purposes, chaotic cesspool comprised of equal parts misogyny, intimidation, and bullying with degrees of assertiveness, intellect, and drive that is genuinely commendable. This starts with the script provided by Academy Award-winning scribe Charles Randolph which is truly potent yet also riveting with even a necessary punch of a biting sense of humor as well all at the same time. Indeed, much as he was able to showcase to brilliant effect in his work on the script for 2015’s The Big Short, we see that Randolph is quite gifted at adapting for the big screen complex yet also quite volatile concepts/real-world events and then utilizing them to propel a narrative forward at a tempo that may be fast paced, but it also thankfully never once does not permit the audience to be impacted in some way by what they are seeing unfold on screen. More than that though dear reader, perhaps the most brilliant thing that this slice of cinema’s script has going for it is the fact that it manages to show us how even though you can choose to not like the women at the heart of this picture, be they for reasons of a personal or political nature, we can still show them sympathy and heartache for what Roger Ailes mercilessly and callously put them through in the workplace. We also see that the wonderful style to say nothing of method of madness deployed by Randolph is brilliantly matched by this film’s helmer, one Jay Roach (yes that would also be the same Jay Roach who also directed, of all things, the Austin Powers movies). Indeed Roach does a wonderful job at keeping things going at a quick enough pace that it doesn’t feel like you are having to look at your watch every 5 minutes, but it also makes sure to utilize a distinct type of contemptuous and self-reverential comedy that helps keep things quite entertaining. I mean this is a slice of cinema dear reader where characters quite often demolish the heck out of the 4th wall in order to explain complicated issues whilst even going so far as to identify key players and displaying an animated diagram that showcases the business structure at Fox News HQ. Yet even though there are quite a few moments where this film adopts a very sarcastic tone, it also thankfully makes sure to treat the grave moments of harassment in the workplace that are unflinchingly showcased in this with the degree of seriousness that it is vital they possess. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement though in terms of the work that is done behind the camera would have to be via the phenomenal skill of Kazuhiro Tsuji in the makeup department. Indeed Tsuji, through work on such films as 2012’s Looper and 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas among others, has long been an artist whose work on a film has, regardless of the overall quality of said film, definitely shown itself capable of standing the test of time and that is definitely the case here as we see the makeup utilized to transform, among others, Charlize Theron and John Lithgow into Megyn Kelly and Roger Ailes respectively is nothing short of jaw-droppingly impeccable. Suffice it say that the work done behind the camera is not only well-done in its own right, but also very much in synch with the work done by the cast in front of the camera as well.

Speaking of the work done in front of the camera, I guess now would be the perfect time to tell you that, more than anything else, this slice of cinema is very much a showcase for some immensely talented members of the entertainment industry to provide us as movie goers with a collection of truly top-tier performances. This starts with the work done by Charlize Theron who is phenomenal as Megyn Kelly. Yes the aforementioned work done by the make-up department aids in this, but even with that in mind there is no denying the nuanced turn given by Theron. I mean make no mistake dear reader: Megyn Kelly is definitely someone who, both in real as well as reel life, doesn’t exactly come off at times as an entirely selfless individual let alone even someone who has always made the best of decisions. However, what Theron does a fantastic job at is not only making Kelly someone who is worthy of our collective sympathy, but also at showcasing Kelly’s inner conflict with publicly admitting that she too is a victim of Ailes’ sleazy and despicable machinations since doing so could most likely cost her everything she has tried so hard to build for herself in an industry that consistently seemed like it was dead set on preventing her from getting there in the first place. As great as Theron is however, we see that this is matched beautifully by the efforts provided by both Kidman and Robbie respectively. Indeed in regards to the former we see that Kidman gives a genuinely brave, vulnerable, and dedicated performance as an anchor who, because she chose to consistently speak her mind and/or stand up for herself, was being harassed and eventually pushed out the door at her place of employment yet still had the courage and strength of character to stand up against it and do everything in her power to ensure it never happened again to anyone else. As for the latter, it should be said here that Robbie is just as brilliant in a role that is truly complex. This is because whilst the character of Kayla is presented to us as someone whose belief system fits in with that of Fox News to a t, it is nevertheless genuinely heart breaking to see her begin to learn how ominous and monstrous her employer is behind closed doors. Besides the work done by the trio of leading ladies however, we also get a tour de force type performance from screen legend John Lithgow as the infamous Roger Ailes. Indeed Lithgow has long been an actor I have appreciated and here he takes on the infamous Fox News CEO in a way that will not only make your skin crawl, but also fill you with a fury at seeing just what exactly this sleaze was able to get away with for so long. Suffice it to say then that when you also factor in a literal gallery of talent including, but not limited to, Kate McKinnon who is phenomenal in her role of Kayla’s workplace friend/quasi-sorta advisor Jess, Malcolm McDowell who is fantastic casting in the role of Rupert Murdoch, Richard Kind as Rudy Giuliani, the terrific character actor Stephen Root as part of Carlson’s legal team, P.J. Byrne who is uncanny as Neil Cavuto, Liv Hewson, Connie Britton as Roger’s obliviously supportive wife Beth, Alison Janney as Roger’s legal counsel Susan Estrich, Rob Delaney, Alice Eve, Elisabeth Röhm, and Marc Evan Jackson amongst others it becomes quite clear that yes this slice of cinema might have its fair share of issues here and there, but thankfully the work done by this skilled and dedicated cast of players in front of the camera most assuredly makes up for it and then some.

All in all and at the end of the day, is Bombshell a perfect cinematic slap in the face to Ailes and his lecherous legacy? Sadly as much as I would love that to be true it’s not. At the same time though, is this slice of cinema an outright fiasco that is very much disrespectful to those who had the strength to come forward so Ailes could answer for all that he had done? Truthfully I would not say that either. One thing’s for sure: this slice of cinema is most assuredly going to conjure up quite the plentiful mix of righteous fury and sickening nausea in you by the time the credits begin to roll. Yet besides that plus the fact that this slice of cinema is both competently made behind the camera and extremely well-performed by an immensely talented cast of players in front of the camera, there is one other thing about this film that I feel is definitely worthy of note. That being that, when looking at the trio of main characters in this as a collective, you see that together they all operate as key elements of what any decent human being should be. Those are, in no particular order, the heart to have empathy for the suffering of others to say nothing of being aware of when you are legitimately wronged by those who seek to do others harm, the ability to seriously ponder all possible decisions before making the best one, and the iron-clad will to stand up for the right thing no matter what the cost. Indeed it is only when this trio of elements are able to assemble and people regardless of gender stand together against such injustices as the ones unleashed by Ailes and Weinstein among others can we as a world hope to attain justice for those who were impacted by their actions to say nothing of ensure that countless others will never know that kind of pain or heartache in their own lives. A message that not only is true and right in the real world, but one that this slice of cinema is more than willing to yell at the top of its lungs for all who decide to give it a watch or 4 to hear. Make of that what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Bombshell “2019” a solid 3.5 out of 5.