BOMBSHELL Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The revolution will be televised, says Tony.

The times have been a-chaaaaaaangin’ for decades, and it’s true to say that steps have been taken in a more positive, inclusive direction, from women in the workshop to access to women’s healthcare, movements towards LGBTQIA recognition and equality, the recognition of some medical conditions as medical conditions, and a development of, though by no means the perfection of, broader equality of opportunity between white and BAME people, people with and without disabilities, etc etc.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet every woman in every job knows ‘that guy.’ The guy with the wandering hands or the inappropriate mouth. The guy you know isn’t really joking when he says he is, or who is, but you’re the butt of his joke. The boss who dangles promotion on the end of a demeaning, power-gaming, sexually coercive string.

Bombshell is the dramatized story of what happened to right-wing lie-spewer and talking headshop, Fox News in 2016, when it became the unlikely centre of a tornado of rebellion against these corporate cultures of male entitlement.

In 2016, the US Republican party was in the process of anointing its candidate for President, veering towards Donald Trump, a real estate mogul and TV buffoon, best known in recent years for frankly baseless right-wing conspiracy nonsense. He was running as an anti-Establishment candidate not by espousing genuinely anti-Establishment positions, but taking the Establishment values of male supremacy, white supremacy and the supremacy of the rich, and stripping them of their pretences towards progressiveness and inclusivity, making them unashamed campaign slogans and banners, and telling America that, in essence, they were things of which it could be proud, everywhere. He was out to ‘Make America Great Again,’ and that plainly meant making it controlled by white, rich, sexist men…again, freeing the beasts of these isms from the notions that they were bad. The nation was to some extent free to be openly foul to other people again.


Then Megyn Kelly, a Fox News host, took Trump to task during one of the Presidential debates, for his history of screaming sexism, sometime borderline sexual abuse, sometimes way over the borderline sexual abuse, and his ex-wife’s allegation that he’d raped her.

Trump’s response was characteristically over the top, unleashing a tweetstorm that galvanized right-wing hate for Kelly, from Trump’s own assertion that she was ‘bleeding from her…whatever’ to whackjob assertions that Kelly was a traitor, a whore, a dumb blonde – you name it, Trump opened the floodgates of it.

But this movie is not, principally, a liberal hit-piece on Trump. While it makes the connection between his revival of old-style sexist machismo as something to embrace proudly and the men who were already embracing it privately, it’s actually far more subtle, complex and involving than that, because it takes the viewer into the Fox News culture, in particular focusing on three women at various stages in their Fox journey, and three powerful, entrenched men. The women are Gretchen Carlson (another Fox talent, played here by Nicole Kidman. Carlson was fired without explicit cause), Kelly (played by Charlize Theron), who became a figure suspected of questionable Fox-values after the questions to Trump and the subsequent tweetstorm, and Kayla Pospisil (played by Margot Robbie), a relative newcomer to the network and ‘Evangelical Millennial’. The men are Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell), station owner and worldwide media infestation, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow, getting much closer to public perceptions of Ailes than Russell Crowe managed in the recent televised version of the story, The Loudest Voice), who built and ran Fox News as the home of right-wing moral outrage it became and presided over its toxic culture of male entitlement, and Bill O’Reilly (Kevin Dorff), the on-screen face of old-fashioned grumpy-uncle rage and possible inventor of the notion of the ‘War On Christmas’ among other lunacies.

Carlson, when fired, was tied in legal red tape that stopped her suing Fox News for historic inappropriate sexual conduct. Not easily beaten, she took out a private suit against Roger Ailes for his actions. Kelly, at first reluctant to further torpedo her career on the right wing’s network of choice, eventually came forward as having been approached by Ailes earlier in her broadcast career, when he attempted to grope and kiss her, and when rebuffed, asked her ‘When’s your contract up?’ – the implication being that refusing his sexual advances would end her time with the station.

But it’s actually Robbie’s Pospisil who provides the film’s most fascinating focus, because while most of the women who eventually came forward to allege sexual coercion or abuse by Ailes and O’Reilly at Murdoch’s station are shown with the memories of that abuse and what it gives them in terms of dark moments whenever they reflect on it, she’s experiencing the truth of that experience in the 21st century, ensuring we get the point – allowed, unchecked, unchallenged by a system set up to treat them as unquestionable, men will take unfair advantage of people below them in the system, and particularly will take the opportunity of unchecked power to extort sexual services from women, wrapped up as the ‘price of doing business.’ There’s a particularly gruesome scene starring Robbie as Pospisil and Lithgow as a 2016 Ailes where she goes almost bouncing up to see him to discuss her career progression and after showing loyalty, commitment to the Fox ethos, and ideas to move the brand forward to engage with a new younger conservative demographic, he makes her show him her legs. Pospisil is happy enough to do so, to a point, but Ailes keeps asking for more. And more. And eventually more, until her skirt is hiked above the level of her panties. The film co-opts us to Ailes’ view of her, makes us the voyeur of a body that would be kept from us, but which the power of the culture shows to us. Robbie’s performance is a fitting tribute to the parade of real women who suffered such indignity at Ailes’ hands. It’s like something dies in her, right there on screen in front of you, and it’s horrifying and breathtaking all at once. As a sequence, it should probably come with a trigger warning, because you will feel dirty afterwards, but showing it feels crucial, turning the reports and testimonies of the other women who suffered at the hands of these men into something real, and raw, and made of flesh and embarrassment and power misused.

While the lawsuits against Ailes and O’Riley would probably never have got anywhere without the meticulous record-keeping of Gretchen Carlson, the movie works to bring in the several generations of on and off-screen talent who were subjected to intimidation, threat, coercion and rape at the hands of those powerful men. There’s voice-over testimony taken from the statements of a handful of additional women, there’s a straightforward recounting of Megyn Kelly’s encounter with Ailes, and there are also some powerful scenes of the lie of female bodily autonomy at Fox that could have come straight out of Animal Farm: women being forced to wear ‘Team Roger’ T-shirts because ‘we need everyone on Team Roger,’ as the network turned on its whistleblowing women; women taking calls from reporters, flatly denying there was a no-trousers rule so their legs would be shown on screen, and then immediately having the notion of wearing trousers on air vetoed by the high-ups. That’s perhaps the most impressive thing about the movie – it shows the culture of Fox News as an environment, as well as focusing on the foulness of the individual men at the top of their particular power trees.

It’s easy to feel smug as a liberal watching this movie. It’s easy to say ‘That’s Fox News – what did these women expect?’ But that’s to miss the point spectacularly (and probably to set ourselves up for a hypocritical fall). Yes, at Fox News, an organisation built from the ground up by Ailes to be a screaming shop for some of the worst, most paranoid, most regressive viewpoints available, the culture of male toxicity was allowed, even encouraged, to be normalized. But while Trump and his ‘Think the worst things, and say them anyway’ brand of politics caused headaches for Fox News and Murdoch, and definitely for Kelly, it’s a mistake to think corporate politics translates into personal or cultural morality within more progressive organizations. Women still face this sort of horrifying power imbalance day to day in businesses around the country, around the world, and some of those businesses will have groovier politics than Fox News ever aspired to have. Give men a fiefdom, and watch the power corrupt them.

That, ultimately is the triumph beyond the triumph of this movie – yes, absolutely it takes three blistering lead performances (Kidman, Theron, and Robbie) and uses them to show a story of strength, of courage in a corporate culture gone all the way to hell, and yes, it hold up Fox News, bastion of right-wing agitprop as a pinata of sexual corruption, power imbalance and staggering hypocrisy (like the inevitable anti-gay hate preachers who are found soliciting gay sex in bathroooms). Yes, also, there’s a good deal of flair in its introduction, which vaguely mimics Seventies disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure, showing the various departments of the modern hub of right-wing-but-not-talk-radio-crazy thought, only to later show how the culture that held the place together was blown to pieces by the bombshell of women standing together. And yes, there are impressive names from the A list of modern movie and TV fame almost wherever you look in the cast, including Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Allison Janney, and Robin Weigert. But ultimately, beyond all of that, beyond the entertainment factor and the inspiration-porn, this is a movie that shines the light of thought on working cultures everywhere – in any office, in any warehouse. Women still face this sort of exploitation, even after the #MeToo revelations and the Fox News bombshell, every day, everywhere. This is a movie that will make you think about that, make you pick a side, and make you want to be better than these men. These men who run our businesses, our media, and increasingly often, our very nations.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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