‘Bombshell’ Is a Hit-and-Miss Attempt at Depicting Corrupt Newsroom Culture

Christopher Karr

 

There might be an interesting story lurking beneath the slick surface of Jay Roach’s new film, Bombshell. It never quite takes off, but it never completely dips into a state of stagnancy or total dullness. It’s a glorified TV movie with a terrific cast, subpar writing, and hackneyed direction.

 

The marketing campaign for Bombshell suggests a movie that aims to address the injustices encapsulated by the #MeToo movement. Moreover, given the fact that the corporation in the center of the story is Fox News, the teaser, trailer, and ads broadcast a sense of female empowerment in the midst of systematic objectification, sexual harassment, and outright ugly, misogynistic behavior.

 

Or at least that’s the impression that I got after a few viewings of that hip, tough-minded trailer featuring Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy.”

 

 

But what does it say about Bombshell that arguably one of the best scenes involves a questionable (albeit tasteful) instance where two women (Margot Robbie and Kate McKinnon) share a playful post-coital scene? The sensibility of the film is too sanitized to show the sex that happened off-camera, and no wonder: As Robbie’s character explains, she’s not a lesbian; rather, it’s implied that she’s simply a heterosexual free spirit with conservative beliefs and the penchant for a random good time.

 

The second most noteworthy scene exemplifies the contradiction of the movie at length: Robbie (who’s playing a composite character, not a verifiable real-life person) lifts her skirt over her hips at the command of a leering, fat-suited John Lithgow playing Roger Ailes. In recent years, a great deal of fuss has been made about the subjective male gaze in filmmaking, and I hadn’t fully understood the thesis of that concern until I saw a scene like this, which is split down the middle by its own muddled intentions.

 

The content of the scene is meant to illustrate the grotesque behavior of Ailes, and yet the scene is shot in a way that teases out whatever sadomasochistic eroticism that can arguably be found in that moment. The dead giveaway is Roach’s somewhat reprehensible use of close-ups. True, Bombshell is overstuffed with close-ups and medium shots, but for this scene, perhaps a more impartial wide angle would have appropriately conveyed the helplessness of the character being exploited. The composition and editing panders to the perversion of the antagonist, thereby undermining any effort to expose the inherent ickiness the scene might explore.

 

 

The film never settles on a protagonist, and the storytelling mimics The Big Short, which was itself a poor aesthetic rip-off of the seminal movie of the decade, The Wolf of Wall Street. The screenplay relies heavily on telling instead of showing; the info-dumps pile up into a mountainous heap of superfluous details.

 

Charlize Theron’s impressive transformation into Megyn Kelly notwithstanding, Bombshell ultimately doesn’t live up to its title because of Roach’s lack of style, perspective, and insight. In a misguided attempt to tell a story about unthinkable corruption in a particular corporate culture, the filmmakers essentially cobbled together one long advertisement for Fox News. Perhaps Backfire would be a more fitting title.

 

Author Bio:

 

Christopher Karr is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

 

For Highbrow Magazine

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