Wednesday 8 January 2020

Review: Bombshell

Cert: 15 / 109 mins / Dir. Jay Roach / Trailer

Oh, is it awards-season already? No sooner have the Golden Globes taken over Twitter discourse*1 than we begin with the raft of Worthy™ films, released in January because voting committees have notoriously short memories when it comes to listing the favourite things they've watched.

And opening this year's lectures is Jay Roach with Bombshell, the Charles Randolph-penned screen rendering of 2016's media-scandal where everybody suddenly realised that Fox News was being run by some right old wrong'uns. Charlize Theron leads as presenter Megyn Kelly, with Nicole Kidman as outgoing host Gretchen Carlson and Margot Robbie as incoming harassment-target Kayla Pospisil. John Lithgow stars Roger Ailes, the touchy-feely Darth Vader to Malcolm McDowell's Emperor Rupert Murdoch.


And it's good in a sort of solidly linear fashion. The story is compelling (although this has more to do with the real-life actual events) and the cast are fantastic (although it's a fantastic cast, so we'd expect nothing less). Roach brings the social urgency of The Post and the wry outlook of The Big Short, always taking the subject seriously but with some of its aspects requiring a full fourth-wall-break to convey the required incredulity*2.

But the film spends quite a lot of its runtime winking at the audience (whether that's the glaring "STAY IN LANE" road signs during Kelly's deliberations over how to react to the developing situation, or Ailes' withering line of "me too..." during his firing, followed by five seconds of pointed silence in the room). Bombshell often feels like the dramatised-reconstruction sequences of a documentary without the documentary and made for an audience who already know the story.


Which brings us to Bombshell's biggest problem, a searing dose of Daniel Blake Syndrome. It's never entirely clear what point the film is trying to make which wasn't made by the 2016 news reports or the subsequent flow of reactions and think-pieces. And it's even less certain whose mind film is going to change.

There'll be no sexists watching this thinking "Hey, I've asked attractive young women to undress (and more) in my office before, but y'know that seems more than a bit creepy now I've watched Big Roger doing it!". Similarly, the liberal (and let's be fair, 'target') audience are already sympathetic to the cause. While there's plenty of justifiable outrage, there are few revelations here. With the very best will in the world, Bombshell is two hours of confirmation-bias*3.

Yet at the same time the central message of the movie is still very much relevant. The issues the movie addresses are still ongoing and show no real sign of being resolved*4. Bombshell exists in 2020 because it needs to exist.

Here endeth the lesson.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
On the shelf with Vice, Spotlight and The Big Short.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Cinema's not quite its natural home, no.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it. There's not really a lot of re-watch value here.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Not with a cast as solid as this one.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's likely.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: NPR Radio Drama Yoda is in this. And he makes a Jabba The Hutt reference.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Okay, that's probably more the thrust of my social media feeds than your own. Yours probably have far more serious (ie depressing) subject matter to infuriate your lunch hour, but there's only one of us who can change that... [ BACK ]

*2 I must admit that during Theron's opening whistle-stop 'to-audience' introduction of the Fox News building, the style and pacing had me believing we'd cut to a shot of Ron Burgundy any moment and it wouldn't be played for laughs. [ BACK ]

*3 Although to be fair, Bombshell does at least challenge the cosseted liberal audience in one regard, with its idea that Fox News apparently employs people who a) aren't absolute arseholes to begin with, b) somehow aren't aware of the absolute arsehole problem at Fox News, and c) are fine with putting a roof over their heads by actively contributing to the continued success of some absolute arseholes. Of course I know it's not that simple. But of course I'd still walk away from someone in a pub if they told me they worked for one of "those" outlets. In a movie about every single voice having an essential and cumulative effect, it seems odd to be forgiving people who go with the fetid flow for an easy life. Even the guy just mopping up the blood is still keeping the abattoir in business.

Although bear in mind that next week I'll be watching the new socio-political drama from Mr Clint Eastwood, so my leftie-righteousness will be stretched the other way as I'll doubtlessly sit going 'DO YOU THINK THIS POMPOUS CONSERVATIVE HOGWASH IS GOING TO CHANGE MY MIND?' for two hours. [ BACK ]

*4 Because even in 2020 people are still awful, in case you hadn't noticed. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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