Bombshell review

For F*** Magazine

BOMBSHELL

Director: Jay Roach
Cast : Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Rob Delaney, Mark Duplass, Liv Hewson, Allison Janney, Kate McKinnon, Malcolm McDowell
Genre: Drama/Biographical
Run Time : 1 h 49 mins
Opens : 30 January 2020
Rating : NC16

Millions of Americans turn to Fox News for political commentary and opinion every day, and the channel is the preferred media mouthpiece of the current occupant of the White House. This film tells the story of how a pervasive pattern of sexual harassment perpetrated by CEO Roger Ailes and other high-ranking members within the organisation was brought to light.

It is 2015 and Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), a popular anchor on Fox News, earns the ire of Donald Trump, Republican front-runner in the 2016 presidential election. After asking Trump a question about his history of alleged mistreatment of women at a televised debate, Kelly is targeted by Trump and receives a barrage of attacks for challenging him. In the meantime, Fox and Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is taken off the popular morning show and given her own show in a bad timeslot. Carlson constantly faces sexism and has repeated advances made on her by Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). After meeting with lawyers, Carlson plans to sue Ailes for harassment.

Ailes’ latest victim is Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a newcomer with dreams of being a Fox anchor. Kayla befriends Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon), a Fox staffer with something to hide. Soon, Carlson’s lawsuit causes tension within Fox News, with pressure mounting for the anchors to defend Ailes – something Kelly refuses to do. A rift forms between Ailes and media mogul Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell), the owner of Fox News, as many more credible accusations against Ailes and other men at Fox News surface.

Bombshell has a largely excellent cast giving the material their all. Charlize Theron has netted an Oscar nomination for her turn as Megyn Kelly – subtle special effects makeup alters her features to increase the resemblance, but the truly uncanny element of her performance is the voice she affects. While it sometimes sounds like she’s struggling to sustain it, it works.

Robbie is eminently sympathetic, playing some emotional moments such that they’re especially heart-rending.

Encased in layers of prosthetic makeup to play the slovenly Ailes, John Lithgow is especially watchable playing blustery characters, and Roger Ailes is nothing if not blustery, always a second away from yelling – and worse – at his employees.

Bombshell is often energetic and is very good at conveying the crushing atmosphere of fear at Fox News that caused many of Ailes’ victims to hesitate in speaking out. The film is not especially accessible to those that do not have prior knowledge of Fox News and its key personnel, but it does an adequate job of portraying the tension between Ailes and the Murdochs, as well as highlighting how sexism manifested itself on the Fox air.

Unfortunately, it feels like Jay Roach is not the best director for this. Yes, Roach has directed the Sarah Palin-centric film Game Change, but he is best known for his comedies, including the Austin Powers trilogy, Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers. Bombshell’s overall jokey tone is at odds with the graveness of the subject matter, meaning the film’s tonal shifts are often jarring. Scribe Charles Randolph, who won an Oscar for co-writing The Big Short, brings a lot of that film’s glibness to this project. There are many stylistic choices which call attention to themselves, including characters frequently breaking the fourth wall to address the audience. This reminds audiences of the artifice of the film, and yet, there is a heavy use of handheld documentary-style camera moves, including suddenly zooming in on a character’s face as they react to something – this is perhaps more reminiscent of The Office than of most documentaries.

Not unlike 2018’s Vice, Bombshell feels like a movie that constantly gets in its own way because it is determined to present the story in a fast-paced, eye-catching manner. The movie sometimes sabotages the committed performances its actors give in the name of excitement. In trying to cover as much ground as possible, Bombshell goes for breadth over depth, with title cards popping up to introduce each new player as efficiently as possible. It does all this while keeping Megyn Kelly front and centre as the main heroine of the piece, such that it feels like the story was manipulated to give her prominence over Carlson and others. Interestingly, Kelly was wholly absent from The Loudest Voice, the 2019 TV series starring Russell Crowe as Ailes and covering much of the same ground. Kelly herself said meteorologist Janice Dean should have been featured in the film, as she became the confidant for many fellow victims of Ailes.

Many other noted Fox News personalities briefly show up in the film, including Kimberly Guilfoyle (Bree Condon), Ainsley Earhardt (Alice Eve), Abby Huntsman (Nikki Reed), Chris Wallace (Marc Evan Jackson), Sean Hannity (Spencer Garrett), Geraldo Rivera (Tony Plana), Jeanine Pirro (Alana Ubach) and Greta van Susteren (Anne Ramsay). The overall comedic tone means that some of these performances feel straight out of Saturday Night Live. Yes, this being a film about a media outlet, many of its characters are bound to be recognisable public figures, but Bombshell becomes more of a game of “how much does this actor look like their real-life counterpart?” than it needs to be.

The biggest invention in the film is Robbie’s character Pospisil. She is a composite character meant to represent the younger would-be on air talent who were subject to Ailes’ advances. Jess Carr, played by actual SNL star Kate McKinnon, is also fictional. The subplot about the unexpected bond formed between the two women rings especially false. Practically every movie based on a true story features composite characters, but because the scandal at Fox played out in the public eye, audiences can immediately tell that there wasn’t really a “Kayla Pospisil”.

Summary: Bombshell tells a compelling, important story in an off-putting jokey manner, feeling too smug and self-satisfied to properly essay its message about women fighting back against a culture of sexual harassment in the workplace. Bombshell is carried by great performances, especially from Theron, Robbie and Lithgow, but is nowhere near as effectively insightful and damning as it could’ve been.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Accountant

F*** Magazine

THE ACCOUNTANT

Director : Gavin O’Connor
Cast : Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, John Lithgow, Cynthia Addai-Robinson
Genre : Action/Drama
Run Time : 2h 8min
Opens : 13 October 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Violence and Some Coarse Language)

the-accountant-posterWhen accountants pop up in movies, they’re generally meek nebbishes: think Gene Wilder and later Matthew Broderick as Leo Bloom in The Producers. Not here. Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a certified public accountant with high-functioning autism. The mathematical genius covertly uncooks the books for the world’s most powerful criminal masterminds, and is also a highly trained marksman and hand-to-hand combatant. Treasury Department investigator Ray King (Simmons) has made it a priority to hunt down the mysterious underworld figure known only as ‘The Accountant’, putting analyst Marybeth Medina (Addai-Robinson) on the case. Christian is hired by Lamar Black (Lithgow), the founder of high-tech prosthetics manufacturer Living Robotics. Dana Cummings (Kendrick), a junior accountant at Living Robotics, has uncovered an anomaly in the financial records that puts her life at risk. In the meantime, Christian is pursued by Brax (Bernthal), a rival assassin with a link to his distant past.

the-accountant-ben-affleck-1

The Accountant is an odd duck, a mashup of the ‘misunderstood genius’ drama and action thriller subgenres. Bill Dubuque’s screenplay was featured on 2011’s Black List of the most-liked unproduced scripts making the rounds in Hollywood. While there are combinations of story elements in The Accountant which one would be hard-pressed to find in any other movie, there also are beats that seem quite familiar. There are stretches of awkward exposition, and the Medina character is introduced by way of having her superior reel off her résumé so the audience can know that she’s both brilliant and has a dark side. As expected, there is a lot of mathematics in the plot. Instead of a training or lock ‘n’ load montage, this movie has an accounting montage. It might be helpful to view all the bookkeeping talk in the same vein as Star Trek techno-babble, but a good amount of effort is required from the viewer to follow the progression of the story.

the-accountant-jon-lithgow-and-ben-affleck

Any time an able-bodied actor portrays a differently-abled character, there’s bound to be a little controversy. On the one hand, it’s a role that could have gone to an actor who actually has the condition being depicted, but on the other, the studio needs a big name. Affleck’s performance won’t be mentioned in the same breath as Dustin Hoffman’s turn in Rain Man or Daniel Day-Lewis’ role in My Left Foot, but it gets the job done. Affleck is mostly robotic, but also puts the effort into capturing the little tics Christian possesses. He is harder to buy as a maths whiz than his buddy and Good Will Hunting co-star/writer Matt Damon, since Affleck has always been perceived as the more lunkheaded of the pair. The intensity and focus with which Affleck performs the action sequences is riveting enough, though.

the-accountant-anna-kendrick-and-ben-affleck

There is an impressive supporting cast here, but strangely enough, they aren’t given all that much to do. Kendrick’s character is a loveable blend of ‘adorkable’ and intelligent – one almost suspects that “an Anna Kendrick type” was scribbled in the margin of the casting notes. The dynamic that develops between Christian and Dana isn’t what one might expect of a typical action movie, which is surprising in its own right.

the-accountant-jon-bernthal

Bernthal plays a garrulous faux-friendly assassin who seems to have wandered in from a Tarantino flick, calmly and affably chatting to his would-be victims, explaining how he’ll kill them. Alas, the final showdown between Bernthal and Affleck isn’t nearly as exciting as the phrase “Batman vs. the Punisher” might suggest. Simmons has a lot of range as a performer, and while Ray King isn’t a caricatured ‘police chief’, he’s still pretty non-descript. The back-story given to Addai-Robinson’s character is more interesting than her actual performance, but the procedural element in which Marybeth does the detective work to identify and track Christian down does have a satisfying logic to it. Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor, both reliable veteran actors, get very little screen time.

the-accountant-ben-affleck-and-jeffrey-tambor

There are little textural elements to The Accountant that give it a much-needed injection of fun. For example, Christian is paid in rare art and collectibles including original Renoir and Pollock paintings, a Star Wars lightsaber prop with a plaque signed by George Lucas, and Action Comics #1, the valuable comic book in which Superman first appeared. Prepare to hear the comic collectors in the audience wince when Christian tosses the issue (sans acrylic slab) nonchalantly into a duffel bag.

the-accountant-cynthia-addai-robinson-and-j-k-simmons

The Accountant’s mystery is more convoluted than it is gripping, with a succession of reveals at its conclusion wrapping things up a little too neatly. It’s not your, well, by-the-numbers spy/hitman flick, but at the same time, its individual components feel like odd bedfellows, and these books end up somewhat imbalanced.

the-accountant-ben-affleck-2

Summary: The things that make The Accountant unique also make it challenging to get wrapped up in. It’s a weird one, but maybe that’s what you’re looking for if the standard action thriller bores you.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong