Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie
Director: Jay Roach
Running Time: 108 mins
Bombshell is an American film about the true story of a group of women who stood up and accused Fox News CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment, as he dominated the corporation for years, developing a toxic atmosphere at all levels.
As contemporary as things get, Bombshell is a gripping and energetic exposé on a horrifyingly pervasive issue in modern society, providing captivating and fiery drama along with well-tempered social commentary and historical intrigue. The film does struggle to find its voice early on, but with real passion and immense talent in all corners, it ultimately proves to be a powerful and attention-grabbing watch.
If there’s one thing to know about Bombshell, it’s that it doesn’t hold its punches. And that’s what really makes it soar. It’s by no means a hysterical or melodramatic take on real issues, and it impresses throughout with well-balanced and level-headed drama, but its passion and fire are what really turn it from an average film into something both more memorable and worth your while.
There’s no getting away from the main topic at play here, sexual harassment and institutional pressure on women to stay quiet about it. Bombshell details the high-profile scandal surrounding Fox News CEO Roger Ailes’ fall from grace, and does so in an unapologetically direct and passionate manner.
In its early stages, however, Bombshell doesn’t get off to the best of starts, misguidedly focusing on a number of topics that frustratingly dilute the real impact of what’s really at stake. Set sparingly against the initial stages of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, the film starts off with too much emphasis on the conservative-liberal divide, Trump’s campaign and the cutthroat world of news media.
Both of those topics are certainly a key part in the history of institutional sexual harassment in the modern day, but in terms of telling this story, Bombshell spends far too long on wider topics without linking into its strongest suit, where the real ire and intensity lies.
What’s more is that the first act tries to play the same sharp and witty fourth wall-breaking game of The Big Short. But, in tandem with its misguided thematic focus at first, Bombshell just doesn’t have the same spark or even humour to be another Big Short, and really struggles to find its voice for the best part of the first forty minutes.
All of that changes, however, when the story takes a marked shift in tone and focus. The contemporary political background is left to one side (and not really picked up again), but it’s all for the better, as the film begins to deliver a powerful exposé on sexual harassment, all the while getting you fired up as its reveals the disgusting realities of how executives pressure and silence those trying to show the truth to the world.
From there on in, Bombshell is far less of a rehash of The Big Short, but more reminiscent of a revelatory news report, much like the excellent Spotlight. And with that more serious and assured tone, there comes real dramatic gravitas, shocking political themes, and most of all an infuriating portrayal of revolting and medieval behaviour by a respected and successful media magnate.
And beneath all of that beats a fiery heart of righteous fury, just waiting to be given the chance to speak out and show the real truth. The film’s opening act never feels passionate enough, but its latter stages are the exact opposite, working both as a level-headed political drama and an impassioned call to arms on exposing the pervading institutional terrors of sexual harassment.
It’s a film that really gets you fired up for its cause, and that speaks volumes about just how gripping it is come the finish. That fire and emotion is delivered brilliantly on screen by a whole host of great performances, particularly from the enthralling Charlize Theron and the villainous Jon Lithgow, and it all comes together to make Bombshell a compelling and genuinely powerful watch in the end.
Overall, I was really impressed by Bombshell. While it misses the mark in its early stages, attempting to grab your attention with sharp wit and a range of subject matters, it improves enormously later on. Feeling like an entirely different film after its first act, it provides an enthralling and infuriating exposé on institutionalised sexual harassment, complete with riveting depth and immense passion both in front of and behind the camera. So that’s why I’m giving it a 7.9.