Nicole! Charlize! McKinnon! Lithgow! Trump? What could possibly go wrong?..
I was looking forward to BOMBSHELL. It had relevance, provocation, a great poster and ad campaign. There seemed to be an experimental slant in style, fusing real footage to reconstructions and dramatised reimagining. Above all: what a cast! Three of my most favouritest actors: CHARLIZE THERON, NICOLE KIDMAN, KATE MCKINNON, onscreen, together? AND an inspirational story about Megyn Kelly! What’s not to love?!
Sadly, I did not enjoy it. One scene brought down the whole. Charlize’s character is accosted by a Trump supporter at a tennis court. Mr Charlize then swings into the rescue, threatening physical violence against the #MAGA disciple. All fine, ok. Except we then cut to Charlize and hubby in bed, delighted with themselves.
Why not simply say ‘Please do not speak to my wife like that again or I will have to complain to the club‘. No. He HAS to threaten actual, physical harm. It’s an assault. It is bullying. And it appears, as cut/edited/framed, to win the wife’s approbation.
This is supposedly a movie that takes down male appropriation of women and the thuggery and bullying associated with such repellent caveman attitudes.
Now, granted, Charlize’s character’s hubby is her choice of lover and his defending and subsequently holding her in the bedroom intimacy are consensual.
Direct contrast with: the baddie here (Lithgow as Roger Ailes), portrayed as a disgusting tyrant who made women employees feel intimidated and used. When he is nasty to lovely lil Nicole: I want to take him down myself!
There is a logical stream, nonetheless, in the kinds of toxicity being modelled.
Bullies are themselves often victims of bullying. If you go around picking needless fights and stoking wrath? You are yourself, a kind of abuser, very possibly purging the inadequacy of some youthful trauma. That, in turn, can inspire your own victim, however unintended or briefly, to mimic and thereby extend rather than improve the bad behaviour cycle.
With minor dramatic liberties taken, one could contrive Charlize and hubby to personify opposing values to those present (or indeed, absent altogether) in your abusive antagonist (John Lithgow, brilliant as always btw).
By having Mr big butch machismo hero hubby fly to the rescue on a tennis court? The already weak threads begin to unravel because your heroine loses the fundamental quality of likeability which makes you want to root for them.
Instead, I’d Maker HER take down the tennis court wallies: firmly, calmly, clearly. So setting a template for her journey in the remainder of the movie. Civilised feminine strength taking down the worst kind of screaming abusers? No. Too subtle, obviously 😉 .
There is a counterargument, of course. The notion that in the real rather than reel world, heroes need not be perfect or even remotely endearing. If Charlize is too cool and brilliant, the movie loses grit? Understood. Except that BOMBSHELL, does not really develop her character adequately imho. It could have worked better as full biopic, with the Fox News adventure a kind of closing crescendo? But ok, that’s a different film and this does not want to be pigeon holed in one genre.
It wants, desperately, to be as good and innovative as, say, an Adam McKay ‘mockumentary’ /edutainment (The Big Short). There is a mix of formats to match the ambition (clips, real footage, split screen etc). But the director lacks the range of tones and techniques to pull it off imho. Because he is Jay Roach.
This has neither the weight and thrills of a David and Goliath investigative journalism Watergate style takedown of abuse, nor the satirical charms of an ode to female triumph. Indeed: they keep reiterating, via Charlize, to camera, didactically, that the heroine is ‘not’ feminist: why?
To be fair: the film does depict some genuinely shocking, evil crimes to be taken down. Makes the skin crawl and you will shout at the screen for justice. This kind of effort is therefore, prima facie, a blessing to society because it brings struggles to life and moves us all to vigilance. So I would never write off the whole effort. It won plaudits, for good reason, with some solid craft on display and laudable aim.
BOMBSHELL is a value judgment itself nevertheless, from the moment it begins and especially in THAT tennis court scene. Yes, it is right to bring down disgusting, vile, abusive villainy, as it always was and forever, hopefully, will be.
And specifically now, we, as a transatlantic community, feel more empowered and emboldened to embark on that crusade in the post Trump era, whose legacy looms large still and permeates the movie in question. It is as much an indictment of a political culture as exploration of how one news empire allowed vulnerable women to be abused and their pastoral care neglected.
Today? There is no longer a panto villain POTUS. No more politics as theatre on Twitter or teenage boy dorm room bully level rants from the supposed leader of the free world. Fine. Ok. I get it. Great. But hating Trump does not in itself make you a better person.
It’s entirely conceivable to be anti Donald and remain a thoroughly awful human being. It is equally probable that one can exist as a decent citizen and with moderate objectivity, defend Trump’s record on economics and foreign policy, whilst denouncing the mad rhetoric.
One brand of toxicity and perceived villainy can always give rise to another. Loving Biden/Harris/CNN/social media virtue signalling is a badge of neither practical grit nor ethical enlightenment. Even if your right to enjoy that liberty was indeed won to some extent by those who did risk everything to take a stand (as, to be fair, did the ladies at Fox News in the real world counterpart to BOMBSHELL).
Let us not forget the dangers of reflecting the very toxicities against which one rebels on film. If your target is a market of didactic, shout down, bullying power bases? Then it is tragic and ironic, rather than heart-warmingly inspirational, to begin building an equal and opposite ethos whereby your camp simply shouts louder. That compromises rather than strengthens your moral high ground, empowering rather than destroying the enemy.
It’s arguably why you had a term of Trump as POTUS and indeed, why a second stint at the White House was not beyond the bounds of possibility. And above all? It’s just not very good filmmaking. Which is perhaps why your otherwise beautiful, brilliant and powerful female leads feel so underused in BOMBSHELL. It all comes down to that darn tennis court scene which even YouTube does not seem to host as an example of the movie (go figure; conspicuous by absence?). Cut the scene and you save the movie. It’s that simple.