Bombshell is a dramatized depiction of the sexual harassment allegations against head of Fox News, Roger Ailles, that ultimately lead to his firing from the company just months before the election of Donald Trump. At times it’s stylistically reminiscent of Adam McKay’s Big Short and Vice, yet never fully adopts a consistent motif the way McKay’s work does. It sits on bizarre narrative ground mixing real footage spliced with the film’s actors, obviously dramatized scenes, and the tiniest dash of surrealism that evokes a feeling that the director was trying to Ape McKay’s work but didn’t fully understand why other than it being a movie based on true events. The often distracting visual storytelling is the least of its issues and not what I want to talk about. It’s biggest issue is its merit to exist in the first place.
I’m not one to say a movie should not exist full stop. I’m the type of sucker who is happy for any movie to exist for the people who connect with it, even if that’s not me. In this context, I’m looking at it as a major release, which if nothing else means it demands an audience – a large audience. But who is this large audience and who could they possibly be made up from?
I do think this is a movie that needs to be seen, the same way an office sexual harassment film needs to be seen. That doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable. The core of the movie is powerful no matter how clunkily delivered. It’s a movie that says something complex about what might be defined as the issue of the decade, harassment and power dynamics, but I fail to grasp who this movie is for. Conservatives aren’t likely to sit through two hours of slams on Fox News and attacks on their very identity. On the other side, liberals aren’t eager to watch their real life villains played as victims turned heroes, no matter what truth the movie holds.
This is a shame because the message is clear. Harassment is not a liberal issue. Harassment is a human issue, and it can find victims in villains; people whose morality can be seen as ambiguous at best. It is still harassment nonetheless. It is still wrong. It also conveys the complicated nature of harassment. That it’s not as simple as there being perpetrators and victims. The crystal clear act of harassment can be obfuscated by murky waters. Sometimes the very roots of the perpetrator and the victim can become tangled and intertwined under the soil of nurturance and ambition, and that abusers can play both the role of angel and devil. Ultimately, the movie lands, as we all should, on the fact that harassment can’t be wiped clean by good deeds, and it is no less egregious when the other victim appears to be, or is, willing to participate.
Whether true or false, helpful or harmful, pundits at Fox News like Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, and their ilk are seen by many liberals to be enemies of democracy and truth, no matter to what degree you could argue they’ve fought for those two things within the confines of Fox News. The film makes a point to speak to the stain that is being a part of Fox News, but it’s a stain that can’t help but harm a liberal audience’s connection with the film’s protagonists. They are protagonists a liberal audience will struggle to root for. Not because of any flaws their characters are shown to have in the movie, but the flaws we know them to have as humans in our real lives.
Yes, it’s an accurate and important look at the perils of fighting harassment. That in and of itself should be important, but if I can be so extreme, imagine a movie about harassment towards a female officer within the Nazi party in 1930s Germany. At the end of the day, it’s still another Nazi getting harassed. Down with them all. Is that being unfair to Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Taylor – yes, but I can’t help but imagine its a shared sentiment among many fervent liberals. That isn’t the mindset we should have, nor is it what the film wants us to have, but it hangs in the film like a stench the film doesn’t have the olfactory senses to pick up on.
It’s a story that feels unfinished. It ends on a tone that sways between hopeful and hopeless.The end text card itself states how Ailles was awarded more money than all the victims combined. “It was never about the money,” he tells Rupert Murdoch. Maybe not, but you have the money AND the damage has been done. In real life, villains never really get theirs.
Just months after the events of the film, Trump would become president. The film’s events are a small victory shadowed by tremendous defeat. It’s a movie that counts on reality to finish its story, and when has reality ever been as good as the movies?
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