When you think of ‘Fox News’, the typical context you may vision is one of Donald Trump, capitalist America and sensationalist media and this just so happens to be the political backdrop of Jay Roach’s new movie, ‘Bombshell’ which takes place during the 2016 presidential election and is based on true events.
The film which has been praised by critics and audiences, stars Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman as workers for Fox News. The first thing to note, is as these characters are introduced, each with their own story which interwines with each other, is that the makeup transformation is phenomenal. Kazu Hiro who is known for the makeup behind ‘The Darkest Hour’, gives each of these women a different identity and character that almost makes them unrecognizable. Theron is the one who appears most authentic; she plays powerhouse news anchor Megyn Kelly who the audience gathers is the favourite at Fox. With her piercing eyes, confident gaze and leading stride, it is clear that once again, Theron puts her whole being into her roles.
In order to play Megyn, Theron had to train with a specialist vocal coach and ended up losing her voice. But it’s worth it- she appears unphased, confident and strong all at once, even though her story tells us she is holding it all in. The sound from her anxious heartbeat echoes around the cinema, as she prepares to read the news after becoming it herself after upsetting Trump. It’s a strange moment as you watch- Megyn is a republican news anchor, voicing controversial opinions on air whilst going after Trump. You’re almost not sure whether you can support her as a protagonist, but she’s typical of republican middle class women in America who want to be recognized for their success and dedication, so you can understand the representation.
Kidman plays Gretchen, a news anchor who was demoted after standing up for herself. She kicks off the events of the film, and it’s through her lenses that we see Fox News CEO Roger Ailes as a nemesis- he insults and belittles her and she’s skeptical of what goes on around her as she sees various women go to his office. “You gotta give a little head to get ahead” she mocks him to her lawyers, ready to sue him for harassment in the hope other women will come forward. She’s nonchalant, but eyes darken as she gets more emotional. Kidman’s portrayal is both stunning and sad, she sacrificed all her potential and her career to free other women. Nevertheless, it’s her relationship with Megyn that strikes as interesting in the film. They have been pinned against each other by Ailes, as both of them were news anchors. Megyn was allowed to become the shining star, and Gretchen was put down and demoted. They don’t have a conversation until the middle of the film, but there are moments where they look upon each other, like they have something unspoken in common. It’s these moments that are powerful beyond belief, because nothing has to be insinuated, the audience just knows.
Megyn, Gretchen and Kayla
Margot Robbie plays Kayla, who starts off by producing for Gretchen on her afternoon show. Wanting to become a news anchor herself, she visits Ailes in person, but becomes his latest victim. Young and naïve, we watch Kayla’s world fall apart in Ailes’ office. ‘Stand up and do a twirl’ he beckons at her, but tells her to keep raising her dress until it’s over her underwear. The camera’s close ups of her face as it happens are heartbreaking. Her composure is outstanding, but the emotions are clear. It’s in this moment, we realise Kayla is trapped. She tries to ask for support from a colleague, but the colleague declines saying ‘it’s better if you don’t involve me in this’ as if it’s common knowledge of what Ailes does. Like every #MeToo case though, everybody is suddenly silent when the harassment case goes public. The way in which Robbie plays Kayla, is demanding to be seen. Her naïve and submissive big smiles, that we can all empathise with when we all start new jobs, to her angry and clouded demeanor, not just about the situation, but about the world around her. We know that she chose Fox News because her family have always regarded it highly and they are very Christian and attend church often, so much so that Kayla has ‘church jeans’ so she can balance her coffee on her knee. It’s these details that show how broken Kayla’s faith is, she’s a little bird that wanted the world and now just wants to be set free.
Bombshell is being regarded as the first #MeToo film, and watching it almost feels historical. Although the director and writer are male, the way in which it has been written and put together is so empathetic to existing victims, the story and the cause, that there is no criticism on their behalf. Theron was also a producer for this film, and the Mise en scene is so fitting for the story.
From the clips of Roger Ailes shouting to the gallery to do more wide shots to ‘show more leg’, to the slim fitting tight dresses- we can see that this is a sexualized, high pressured environment that knocks down Women. We often hear Megyn saying ‘don’t call me a feminist’ like it’s a dirty, taboo word in the office- and the truth is, it probably was.
What is intelligently articulated in the film is it’s understanding of societal structures and media influence. We understand from the dialogue that the Murdoch’s (the family of media mogul Rupert Murdoch) work on the eighth floor, and although Roger is the CEO, Rupert makes the decisions and Roger leads the team on how to influence to make the decision happen. We see this with the film using archive footage and explaining how when Murdoch wants a president elected, the news team have to do everything in their power to make sure they are- it’s the news teams responsibility. When the news anchors speak up about this, for example with Megyn’s distaste towards trump, it’s treated like a betrayal, like a damaging execution of freedom of speech. It shows us how our media plays a game, builds us an image and creates our future.
Bombshell will pave the way for more films like this. It’s educational, it’s sociological and has Journalistic tendencies that are so compelling considering we all consume news. Those themes overlapped with a feminist #MeToo story that put us in the shoes of three different women is so powerful, heartbreaking and inspiring that I can’t imagine this film not stealing any awards in the awards season. It’s definitely one not to miss.