“A film that, if you read the fine print, does exactly what it says on the tin.”
Upon the announcement that the Roger Ailes scandal was being turned into a film, it was always going to be the case that one of two films was going to be made. The first film could analyse the complex political environment in which the scandal exists. It would be a film which lays bare horrible crimes committed against numerous women, whilst also analysing the *less than intersectional* approach these women take, standing in solidarity only with other people of their ilk. Though still victims of disgusting crimes, the victims themselves would exist as fully formed people. The second film would dispose of this idea entirely. Rather than explore the story in depth, the film would paint the story as black and white with clear heroes and villains, playing the far-right ideologies of the victims for laughs. When it was revealed that the film was being penned by Charles Randolph, it became apparent that we were going to be given the latter. Randolph’s previous work includes The Big Short, a film that, through a neoliberal and overly forgiving tone, feigned to address the preventability of the 2008 economic crash. With Bombshell, it is clear that Randolph’s outlook hasn’t changed.
Many of Bombshell’s issues lie in its desperation to depoliticise. Rather than engage in the intricate nature of the politics present throughout this scandal, the film takes characters such as Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) and portrays them as naïve, using their radically right wing and discriminatory politics almost as a quirky character trait. When we discover that she is in fact queer, the fact that she has to hide this in her day to day life is displayed as completely normal. There is not an ounce of empathy or trauma, instead the narrative continues to spin plates and shift onto the next part of the ongoing scandal. The repression of her queerness isn’t the issue the film is here to discuss, however it is nonetheless one that it chooses to include, albeit without any critical discussion, which is something of a theme throughout Bombshell. The film’s overtly neoliberal outlook on the scandal fails to scrutinise the litany of other issues unveiled by the Ailes scandal.
Perhaps the only saving grace of Bombshell is the way in which it analyses the monetisation of scandal (quite ironically). The trauma of high-profile members of staff is pushed and publicised by Fox in order to get more views. Controversy fuels profit, so these women are made to relive or further their trauma in order to meet company demands. The film is constantly reminding us that Ailes is only a pawn in the media machine that is Fox, with Murdoch depicted as a monstrous Skeletor-like overlord role that quite suits his character.
In short, Bombshell is a flawed film about a very pressing issue. The fact that we are still receiving stale neoliberal responses to cases like this, while the perpetrator of some of the abuse detailed sits in the White House, is a huge failure of this film and one that certainly weighs heavy on it. The film, although eager to take on aspects of what happened at Fox, refuses to explore the nuances that are presented when telling the story. Filled with lukewarm performances by talented actors, perhaps the only reason to seek out this film is for the cameo-crescendo in the film’s dying scenes which, though entertaining, doesn’t begin to make up for the intolerably poor treatment of this scandal.
Director: Jay Roach
Producer: Aaron L. Gilbert, Jay Roach, Robert Graf, Michelle Graham, Charles Randolph, Margaret Riley, Charlize Theron, AJ Dix, Beth Kono
Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Allison Janney
Written By: Charles Randolph
Release Date: 17th of January 2020