What Ailes You?
Hollywood doesn’t yet have the guts to make a movie about the Harvey Weinstein scandal, perhaps because it’s too close to the boner. How would you make such a film without the talent both behind and in front of the camera, who either turned a blind eye to, or were complicit in, the industry’s dirty little secret? Yet, sexual harassment, particularly in the arts, is rife, and it would be a little odd if such zeitgeistian ejaculate didn’t end up splashed across the big screen.
Bombshell plays it safe by focusing on Roger Ailes, the Head of Fox News, who without the knowledge of News Corp owner Rupert Murdoch, naturally oblivious to the crimes of his decades-long colleague, abused – for which read coerced and raped, young journalists on the make for decades (some as young as 16) before sacked anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a personal law suit, precipitating the inevitable domino effect.
Fox News is a comfortable target for Hollywood because it’s illiberal, partisan and gives succour to pussy grabbers like Donald Trump (an association the movie underlines), making it a story top talent will be happy to be associated with, while deflecting attention from the movie industry’s longer and more reprehensible charge sheet.
Unfortunately, Bombshell, though, er, anchored by good performances from Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Carlson, and Margot Robbie as the new girl who gets Ailes’ lascivious attention, is a slight and unfocused look at the scandal that pulls it punches.
Jay Roach, of Austin Powers fame, can’t find a way into the story that both invokes the requisite revulsion and injustice of Ailes’ long abuse of power, or exposes the degree of industry complicity in its exploitation of women.
There’s an attempt to see the network Ailes created as an extension of his id – “frighten and titillate”, even to, somewhat ironically, provide a pseudo-psychological explanation for the abuse that Fox News viewers might understand – the fallout from a broken home, but the victims, as they were in reality, get secondary consideration.
The movie may lament their payout was less than the severance for Ailes, but that’s not going to stop it telling their story like a joke-free Nine to Five, albeit one in which the three female leads aren’t seen together for 48 minutes, or have sufficient agency in the story until over an hour into the running time. Bombshell does a reasonable job of telling the tale like a Fox story – establish the villain, castigate those involved for moral cowardice and political pragmatism, signal righteousness – but that extends to the synthetic ire.
Meanwhile, John Lithgow in full fat bastard makeup, recovered from Mike Myers’ dressing room, creeps his way through the movie, being the prominent presence throughout. The bombshell, it turns out, is that his character is of greater interest to the filmmakers than anyone he unzipped in front of.