HOLIDAY SEASON FILM REVIEW ROUND-UP 2019, PART TWO: “1917,” “BOMBSHELL”
Starring George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch
Written by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Directed by San Mendes
Produced by Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren, Callum McDougall, Brian Oliver
Cinematography by Roger Deakins
Edited by Lee Smith
Production designer, Dennis Gassner
Music by Thomas Newman
“1917,” director, co-writer and co-producer Sam Mendes’ World War I film about two soldiers on a mission to deliver an urgent, life-saving battlefield message during the brutal war, is a riveting, gripping, suspenseful and above-average war drama and action-adventure film, is highly-recommended, and is definitely a film that must be seen up on the big screen in real, actual movie theaters. That said, any discussion of “1917” needs to start with a need to correct several inaccurate, misguided, wayward and flat-out wrong statements about the movie that have been made by several people—including, surprisingly, some somewhat befuddled and confused film reviewers, who should know better.
Some of these muddled writers have written that “1917” was filmed in one take. That, of course, is not true. That is wrong. “1917” was NOT filmed in “one take.” What these confused writers meant to say is that “1917” was filmed in a manner in which the timeline of the events that occur in the film were meant to appear to occur in what is known as real time–meaning that from the start of the film to the end of the film, everything that happens in the movie that occurs in the storyline occurs in one continuous stream of time as if you’re following the characters as they go through their actions in real life, or, rather, the real life/fictional life that is presented in the movie. The experience is as if the events in the movie are occurring in real time as you watch them. The term real-time scenario is what should be used to describe how “1917” was filmed–meaning there’s no cutaways or flashbacks to other locations, scenes, settings or alternate timelines. The many specially-rigged, specially-arranged, specially-choreographed, specially-blocked and specially-mounted cameras (on wires, on trucks, on cars, on cranes, hand-held, on harnesses, on tracks, and held, carried, mounted and hoisted via other numerous, clever means) record all of the action as it happens in one long, continuous real-time scenario story timeline. NOT one continuous take.
A take is the recording of a film scene that occurs between the time that the director says “action,” which starts the official filming of the scene–the filming of the footage that is designed to be actually used in a final product–and when the director says “cut,” which means the cameras are shut off and the filming of the take, or scene, or shot, is over for that moment. Every scene or shot is usually filmed in several takes. Every scene or shot is usually filmed in several takes for each angle. For every differing angle that is used to shoot a scene, there are differing takes for those angles. Even with using long takes in a real-time scenario. Again, differing takes are required to capture different angles, shots, reactions, action or characters–even in a real-time-scenario-appearing movie.
And, of course, people have to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, take breaks–and go home. Productions have to shut down every day at the end of that day’s filming. Sets have to be dressed. Props have to be placed. Make-up needs to be applied. Costumes have to be re-sewn. Special effects have to be placed–and, often, re-set, re-placed, moved, tested. Scenes have to be rehearsed. Cameras have to be stopped–shut down–because of the weather. Scenes have to be discussed, planned, thought-out, blocked. Camera movements have to be rehearsed. Movement has to be rehearsed. Dialogue gets mangled, actors forget their lines–and takes have to be re-shot. And cameras and equipment have to be set, re-set, rigged, moved, carried, re-set again, re-rigged again, moved again, placed and checked and re-checked. And scenes have to be blocked. And, of course, everything–people, cameras, equipment, actors, crews, riggers, builders, set dressers, costume, hair and make-up assistants, sound people, production assistants, special effects workers and hundreds of other film crew and cast workers, have to be transported, moved and set up the varying physical locations of each respective scene, shot–and takes!!
So “1917” was indeed shot in many long takes–and the movie, it should also be noted, was shot during the course of three months, which is normal for any feature film. Many feature films take four, five or even six months to shoot. A few, usually troubled productions with varying problems, can take even longer than six months to shoot. And then there are the post-production takes in which special effects, coloring, sound, music and other post-production aspects are added–those are indeed editing takes, and, when filming, care and consideration has to be taken during the filming of scenes for what is going to be added in post-production.
So, indeed, for the record: “1917” was not filmed in one take, the movie was filmed in many long takes, the movie was shot during a period of three months, of course there were stops in filming–of course there were–and the movie was filmed in what should be referred to as a real-time scenario.
For one good summarization of what was done during the filming and production to shoot “1917,” check out the promotional video that was released by Universal Studios, which offers some good visual and verbal explanations and insight into what, exactly, was done to film “1917” in a real-time scenario, athttps://www.hollywoodreporter.com/behind-screen/new-1917-video-shows-how-movie-appears-as-one-continuous-take-1244229
The video also gives the viewers some great insight into just how cinematographer Roger Deakins and editor Lee Smith and production designer Dennis Gassner and their respective crews used various cameras in the aforementioned placement manners to film and capture those long takes and to create that real-time scenario. The written copy accompanying the video at this site also provides some good insight into brief backgrounds of Mendes, Deakins, Smith and Gassner. Deakins, Smith and Gassner have all worked with Mendes before on various films, and that chemistry definitely shows in the accomplished, professional final product of “1917,” which is, it should be noted, a film that excels on all of these respective levels–production, direction, cinematography, editing, production design, in addition to writing, acting, art direction, set design, set dressing, set building, and well-detailed period costumes, props, settings, equipment, weapons, planes and other period-specific production aspects of the film.
“1917” tells the simple story–and, by the way, this is an excellent, above-average film that manages to succeed at high levels of production overall despite the most simple of stories–of two British soldiers, William Schofield, played by George MacKay, and Tom Blake, played by Dean-Charles Chapman, who are given an important, but seemingly impossible, mission: to deliver a message to a battlefield commander, who can only be reached by foot through a series of war-ravaged, dangerous, life-threatening fields, towns, foxholes, fronts and battlefields, to stop a British attack because that attack will really end up being part of a sabotaged, pre-arranged ruse and trap by the Germans, who plan to annihilate the British soldiers in their attack via a surprise attack of the Germans own making. To add to the urgency of the mission, Blake’s brother is among the British soldiers who face that annihilation from the Germans–and Blake knows this when he and Schofield are given their mission. So the soldiers race against time and warfare to deliver the message–to save not just Blake’s brother, but about 1,600 other soldiers.
Thus, this is the real-time scenario storyline that the cameras follow in “1917”–Schofield’s and Blake’s desperate, dangerous, continually-life-threatened, fast, urgent, suspenseful trek across various horrendous, nightmarish war-torn locations to deliver that message. It’s a simple story, yes–even told with simple dialogue, and, for long stretches, simply no dialogue at all–but, again, it’s a testament to the collective talents of the entire production crew and cast that this movie succeeds as riveting, powerful and entertaining filmmaking, overall, with concurrent important messages, morals, themes and statements about the basic nightmarish, negative, hellish, horrendous, inhumane, irrational, life-destroying, psycho, bloody, bombastic and overall insane nature of war, warfare, world wars, battlefields, the lives of soldiers and military and political conflicts in general. The movie makes its statements in a straightforward manner that can be summarized, yes, using a cliche that’s perhaps over-used, but is still effective in making its point: war is hell. It can be that simple: war is hell.
The story of “1917” follows Schofield and Blake as they traverse those respective fields, towns, structures, barns, battlefields, foxholes, trenches, battles and fronts to get their message to the rightful commanders. The soldiers encounter a series of wartime scenarios during their trek–emotional, dramatic, tragic scenarios that test the soldiers abilities, stamina, energy, physicality, athleticism, courage and honor. What they encounter and how they encounter these various scenarios are best left unsaid, and best left for moviegoers to experience while watching the film. And do the soldiers get their message through, and what about preventing the doomed British attack? Moviegoers will have to watch the film to find the answers to these plot points, story elements and story development questions.
Kudos must be extended to every department crew that worked on “1917.” An exhaustive, impressive amount of time and effort was extended to build real–not computer-generated or green-screened or computer-generated-imagery-created–trenches and foxholes–and the lengthy, difficult camera movements through these respective trenches and foxholes is immensely, continually impressive. More than five-hundred extra actors, playing soldiers, were used in several scenes–not phony, plastic, fake-looking computer-generated figures, but real, live, breathing human beings–and the collective film production presentation of these actually-built foxholes and trenches and real, actual people is breathtaking. Several scenes recall the similar presentation of real trenches and real people used to such great, equally-breathtaking effect by Sergio Leone in quite-similar warfare scenes in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Remember those impressive scenes in which Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach and others walked through a maze of trenches during that film’s Civil War battle scenes? “1917” creates similar affects as Blake and Schofield wind their way through War World I trenches. Additional, “1917’s” crews are to be praised, as noted, for the film’s extensive production design, art direction, set design, set dressing (the placement of decorative items, art, props, buildings, streets, signs, furniture, and other set and scene construction and design items), props, costuming, make-up and special effects, as all come together beautifully to create a series of wartime scenes that continually impress–destroyed, crumbling buildings, torn-apart barns and structures and properties, damaged hideaways, battlefield meeting places, frontline locations, straight-up battlefields, even rivers, streams, streets and skies that are affected by the fog of war and the ravages of war.
“1917” is simply overall a high-mark, gold standard filmic achievement on all filmmaking fronts. Mendes, working as director, co-writer with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and co-producer with several others, and working off the inspiration of actual war stories told by his grandfather, Alfred Mendes, succeeds with his gamble of using long takes and real-time scenario, and manages to succeed as director, co-writer and co-producer. As noted, he’s working with an A-list production crew that includes many talented, creative, knowledgeable and experienced people who he’s often worked with before–Deakins, Smith and Gassner–and that teamwork comes through, as there was no room for anyone to fail with the specific, detailed and difficult manner in which the film was filmed–using long takes and trying to create a real-time scenario is not easy, is hard, and this technique takes an especially long, well-thought-out process of planning, organization, coordination, blocking, designing, storyboarding and carrying out in which everyone–director, producers, cinematography, production designer, camera crews, sound crews, sound editors, film editors, special effects workers and actors–need to know, more than usual, where to go, when to go, what to do and where the camera is. This is normal, of course, in any filming of any scene in any film on every day–naturally–but, again, with the long takes and real-time scenario, the importance of advance planning, blocking and coordination is enhanced, heightened and taken to new, more-detailed and more-choreographed levels. So the overall heightened coordination and cooperation of all production aspects and crews on “1917” are to be noted and praised because of the unusual filming aspects.
MacKay and Chapman carry the film and are in most of the scenes–of course–and the young actors–MacKay is 27 and Chapman is 22–manage to carry much of the film’s emotion through sheer presence and physicality, as their characters are not really given an incredibly extensive amount of dialogue. But in this film, that is fine. The action, the scenes, the long takes, the real-time scenario, the weight of the film’s momentum, storytelling, story development, plot, plot development and character development are delivered not just through the words and actions of the two lead characters, but through the unspoken words and meaning-filled actions of that occurs in the story and in the film. The points and messages are delivered through the characters’ obvious courage, honor and dedication as they carry out their mission–determined, dogged and devoted, Schofield and Blake carry on through their various obstacles, fights, dangers and battles, fighting to carry out their mission and, at times, to simply live and fight another minute, hour and day. And to save 1,600 men from assured death and destruction. By continually, heroically fighting to carry on and carry forward their mission and message, MacKay and Chapman make their presence felt in every scene, and their words and thoughts–spoken or unspoken–are present and delivered through their actions and the action that occurs around them. “1917” can stand as a testament to using little, sparse, intermittent dialogue–or, at times, even none at all–to get a message–and an entertainment, too–across. This technique of using little dialogue amid an over-arching vital mission to save people also brings to mind Alfonso Cuaron’s similar film “Children of Men,” from 2006, in which Clive Owens’ character similarly had to carry out an important, life-saving mission amid dangerous battlefield circumstances, with little dialogue, amid hellish, nightmarish circumstances, amid life-threatening circumstances, and with little resources and facing an imposing timeline and seemingly impossible odds.
“1917” opens in wide release on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, after a limited release in theaters that started on Dec. 25, 2019, and the film would mark an exceptional start to the filmgoing year for filmgoers.
Additionally, and quite importantly–“1917” should be seen as yet another filmic reminder about the overall insane, dangerous, life-shattering, world-shattering and overall negative, ridiculous, crazy and, often, flat-out unneeded, ignorant and stupid aspects of war, military conflict, armed conflict and military battles throughout history–and especially during a time period in 2019 and 2020 when the world once again is stupidly and insanely erupting, exploding and devolving into unneeded war, military conflict and bloodshed. “1917” reminds everyone that, unfortunately, sadly, the more things change, the more they stay the same in warfare, fighting and military conflict–and is that ever an important lesson that always needs to be taught, learned and remembered. It shouldn’t take a movie to remind humanity that war is hell, but thankfully we have movies like “1917” to remind us that war is hell, war is not the answer, and people desperately need to come together, work together, talk, and work out the world’s problems in any and every way possible except the fog, the insanity, and the stupidity of war.
Starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney
Written by Charles Randolph
Directed by Jay Roach
Produced by Aaron L. Gilbert, Jay Roacha, Robert Graf, Michelle Graham, Charles Randolph, Margaret Riley, Charlize Theron, AJ Dix, Beth Kono
Cinematography by Barry Ackroyd
Edited by Jon Poll
Music by Theodore Shapiro
“Bombshell,” director and co-producer Jay Roach’s entertaining, intelligent, insightful and important film about the horrorshow of lies, propaganda, ignorance, hate, stupidity and sexual harassment that monster-ogre-evil-overlord Roger Ailes and his propaganda and lies delivery service of falsehoods, bias and inaccuracies, Fox News, have spewed out, puked out, polluted, contaminated and sexually harassed the world with for decades, stands as a high-level, must-see filmic achievement on many, disparate levels, but the film notably and essentially stands out as a dire message about the life-shattering dangers and nightmares posed by sexual harassment and the dangers posed by journalistic and political slants, bias and propaganda.
“Bombshell” quickly–and positively, and to the movie’s great credit–brings to mind similar important high-message political and journalistic films of recent years that were also incredibly entertaining: “Vice,” (2018); “The Post,” (2017); “The Big Short,” (2015); “Spotlight,” (2015); “Game Change,” (2012), which was also directed by Roach; “W.,” (2008); “Frost/Nixon,” (2008); “Charlie Wilson’s War,” (2007); and other, similar political- and-journalistic-based dramatic films and documentaries in recent years that have successfully exposed and explained obvious, inherent–and always-dangerous–political, journalistic and societal corruption, deception, falsehoods and lies that have not only destroyed and degraded certain segments of society, but have also incredibly, dangerously, played around with people’s very lives–all for no good reasons in the end.
Thus, these lessons are precisely, exactly and smartly what “Bombshell” is all about. For far foo long, far too dangerously, far too protected by Fox toadies and sheep and drones who were too scared or too stupid to say or do anything about it, and far too protected by political snakes and sharks in and out of Fox who placed political considerations above, basically, what is right and decent and moral and legal, Roger Ailes and Fox News ran a steady, corrupt, shady, horrifically-deceptive political operation of sexual harassment; degradation of women; degradation of men; literal–literal being a key word–lies, falsehoods, inaccuracies, slants, bias, propaganda, deception, cover-ups, ignorance, hate, prejudice, xenophobic statements, racist statements and homophobic statements; and, overall, political cons, scams, shams and farces against society. Is that a biased statement, you say? The answer is, simply, “no”–because numerous studies of what Ailes and Fox News aired has been shown to be literally–again, literally–all of the above. In just recent months–still, even after the embarrassment that was Ailes and Bill O’Reilly–Fox News has continued to run lies, falsehoods, slants, bias and propaganda—live, on the air, broadcast to people across the country and world.
“Bombshell” exposes this political scam amid a concurrently, similarly dangerous operation that Ailes and his psychologically-damaged and deranged cronies also operated for years at Fox News–the blatant, horrendous and life-shattering sexual harassment, degradation and even violence toward women at the network. For years, according to public and private statements from scores of women who worked at Fox News; according to numerous news stories in varying media; according to whispers, comments and conversations from people inside journalism and political circles (including many off-the-record statements made to this journalist); according to two noteworthy, praiseworthy and excellent documentaries and shows about Ailes and Fox that were released in recent years; and according to quite public statements from broadcast news-readers and talking heads Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, Ailes, O’Reilly and their cronies inside and outside of Fox allegedly continually sexually harassed a stream of women at Fox in numerous horrific, illegal and criminal ways. Ailes and O’Reilly were eventually fired from the network because of these allegations, and others, apparently waking up from their respective zombie states, have resigned or retired from the network in the wake of the allegations. However, for some reason, Fox continues to air its propaganda and falsehoods on the air, despite its scandals. The network should have been heavily fined, regulated–and changed–by a collective of government, political, journalistic and network officials for its illegal activities, yet the network continues to air. And all of this is presented clearly, in a well-researched, well-presented, documented manner throughout the film “Bombshell.”
“Bombshell” tells the story about how Ailes regularly allegedly sexually harassed these women at the network, yet remained in power as the alleged harassment continued to continue and increase. All while the network pursued some weird mix of conservative, far-right-wing propaganda, talking head shows, wild commentaries and political power maneuvering and lobbying in conservative and far-right circles. The movie shows how Ailes would hire, groom, welcome–and then allegedly sexually harass–young, beautiful and smart women at the network–including Kelly and Carlson. When these women didn’t do want Ailes wanted–which, often, was allegedly have sex with him, kiss him, let him fondle them, let him look at them in his office in sexually-suggestive manners in his office or elsewhere, have affairs, or other sexually-oriented acts–Ailes would allegedly threaten to fire, demote, harass or generally make life difficult for them.
And, it should be noted, all of this alleged illegality by Ailes and O’Reilly occurred for years at Fox while others at the station knew about the actions, quietly didn’t do anything about the actions, did not help or support the harassed women, pretended that it didn’t exist, or even protected, supported and backed up Ailes and O’Reilly–even though what they are alleged to have done was illegal, corrupt and life-shattering for this succession of abused, harassed and illegally-treated women. The word is that Fox still employs people who propped up Ailes and O’Reilly–and many still believe many people at the network today, in 2019 and 2020, should also be brought up on charges, tried–and fired. Yet, the network drudges on.
“Bombshell” is about all of this–hence, the appropriate title. Roach and his cast and crew expertly present the inside view of a seedy, grimy, corrupt political operation with little regard to human rights, civil rights and appropriate office, work and personnel behavior. The film focuses on a newsroom where Kelly and Carlson become increasingly at odds, upset and unsatisfied and combative with Ailes and Fox and the sexual harassment. Kelly, played to perfection by Charlize Theron–who becomes Kelly in looks, physicality, voice, hair and even make-up—and Carlson, similarly played to perfection by Nicole Kidman, who turns in one of her best acting performances in years, band together as another Fox employee, Kayla Pospisil–a fictionalized, composite character, also excellently played by Margot Robbie–starts to be sexually harassed by Ailes, and, far too slowly at first but soon with increased speed, fire and conviction, Kelly, Carlson and Pospisil eventually work together to bring down and force out Ailes and expose the years of sexual harassment corruption at Fox.
“Bombshell,” as noted, succeeds as a film on many levels–production, direction, writing and acting, along with the film’s concurrent messaging, themes, morals and general importance. In terms of acting, Theron, Kidman and Robbie shine at the respective tops of their games, at once playing intelligent, educated, driven independent women, but at once, alas, also playing women who were horribly, nightmarish and gruesomely sexually harassed, demeaned and psychologically and mentally mistreated and harassed. To create this improbable–but far too real and real-life–balance of playing smart, successful women who have also been subject to such terrible degrading treatment in the workplace takes skill, and Theron, Kidman and Robbie bring this tightrope balancing act to life, with all of the attentive, concurrent range of emotions that go along with being in such a difficult situation. It takes real acting to find and explore and bring out this range and depth of conflicting, struggling and even confusing mish-mash mix of emotions and feelings, and Theron, Kidman and Robbie succeed, to the point where they are sympathetic characters who, unfortunately, many women and even men who have been in similar real-life situations in the workplace and outside the workplace can relate to. Men and women are degraded, mistreated, and sexually harassed in the world every day of every month of every year, and it is a difficult, conflicting and confusing situation that many people struggle every day to deal with. “Bombshell,” through its story, script, dialogue and actions, and through the acting of Theron, Kidman, Robbie and an extensive ensemble cast, delivers this basic message, presenting the conflicts and confusion, but also clearly showing, without any gray areas, just how wrong, illegal and life-shattering this behavior actually is to people.
The inclusion of Robbie’s fictionalized composite character does indeed give the filmmakers a great chance to present a character who gets the chance to actually fight Ailes and Fox out loud–clearly, proudly, directly and strongly. Thus, Kayla, despite being subject to sexual harassment and a nightmarish degrading incident in Ailes’ office–where much of Ailes’ alleged sexual harassment occurred–gets to quickly respond, react, fight and outright take decisive, confident action against Ailes. Meanwhile, Kelly and Carlson remain at the network and fight. Kelly ends up leaving for NBC and Carlson ends up being fired–those aren’t spoilers, as these actions have been obviously well-documented and publicized through the years. And knowing those outcomes here does not spoil or ruin the enjoyment and importance of watching the film.
The enjoyment and importance–and satisfaction–of watching the film comes from watching how these women come together to bring down Ailes, O’Reilly and part of Fox’s corruption culture. They work together, work with others, come to terms with what’s going on, decide that doing what is right is far more important than their own careers or financial statements or standings, and they realize that they need to do something quickly and decisively to protect not only themselves, but others who either were or would face the same horrible, potentially life-destroying set of circumstances. So the women bond, fight and succeed–and that’s not a spoiler, either. It’s important to note that Ailes and O’Reilly were fired–quite publicly and decisively.
And, aside from “Bombshell’s” filmic achievements, another impressive aspect about how the film succeeds is that the movie succeeds despite many people already knowing this story quite through quite public means in recent years through a barrage of news stories–in newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, podcasts, social media, websites, and in radio, on television and in film. As noted, there were two noted documentaries and shows about Ailes and Fox in just the past two years–2018’s excellent “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes,” directed by Alexis Bloom,” and HBO’s mini-series “The Loudest Voice,” just from last year, 2019. So “Bombshell,” also initially released in late 2019, manages to succeed despite a very public story that was, again, just told very publicly within the last two years.
And that is a testament to the talent of the film’s production and acting crews. Director and co-producer Jay Roach is a quality director of politically-oriented and socially-conscious films, having previously directed the equally-excellent “Game Change,” as noted, and the politically-oriented films “All the Way,” (2016); “Trumbo,” (2015); “The Campaign,” (2012); and “Recount,” from 2008. All are worth are seeing, all make important political, journalistic and cultural and historical points and messages, all are well-written, well-directed and well-researched, and, together, all of these films show a director, producer and writer who is continually, impressively working at the top of his game, releasing films that are not only entertaining, but are imparting important societal messages, also. The production aspects of “Bombshell” are top-notch. The settings–newsrooms, offices, homes, broadcast studios, conference rooms–are well-designed, well-dressed with newsroom-appropriate props, furniture and accessories, and well-presented and confined to present a very insulated, insular, bubble-world culture of highly-paid, somewhat-spoiled, silver-spoon television news-readers, talking heads and executives who can’t quite truly connect with the very world that they are broadcasting to on the air every day. Many of the Fox employees, relatives, lawyers, executives and associates talk, act and move through their days in a weird, crazy world that is at the same time connected via news and information, but also disconnected by the very nature of that broadcast newsroom and studio bubble world that certain networks create–and protect–oddly create for themselves. You’re not really one of the people, and in many ways you’re not really connected to most people, when you get paid millions of dollars for reading teleprompters or hosting airhead shows, when you gravitate from one high-society fete or gala to another, when you travel by limousine and first-class, when you are often driven to places by chauffeurs, when you constantly eat and meet at expensive, high-end restaurants, when you live in plush homes or penthouses that most people could never afford, and when you work out of exclusive, cut-off, closed-door offices located literally high above everyone else in plastic, cold, concrete, shut-off skyscrapers and office towers. It’s true–broadcasters and other journalists who claim to be connected to the people are, actually, about as disconnected to people as they could possibly be. The same applies to many politicians, government officials, business executives, entertainers and others–they exist in a very non-real bubble-world where they’re actually cut off from most people living real lives in this world. This is notable to “Bombshell” because this is the insulated, cut-off world that Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph so excellently present in the movie–and they accurately note that this is the same cut-off, bubble-world, exclusive world that also creates, feeds off and spreads sexual, mental, physical and psychological harassment. Thus, Roach and Randolph succeed in creating and presenting in “Bombshell” a dangerous, threatening and scary culture that indeed has implications for everyone at all levels of society–because these types of harassment do indeed exist at all levels.
But it’s these public, high-levels of sexual harassment that do often grab the spotlight and headlines–which is important, because these public cases raise the awareness of a problem that, again, affects, well, everyone. When sexual harassment allegations, cases, charges and, in some cases, convictions and confessions affect the dark corners of the world populated by Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Les Moonves, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and others in similar cases, then perhaps the subject of sexual, mental, physical and psychological harassment will lead to similar outings of people in all fields, at all levels, in all dark corners of greater society–locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. So, thus, “Bombshell” succeeds by contributing to the awareness, discussion and prominence of this very important societal and cultural issue of sexual, mental, physical and psychological harassment.
Theron, Kidman and Robbie lead an extensive supporting ensemble cast, as noted. There are many supporting players performing excellent work throughout the movie, but two actors stand out in their roles, and they are really lead roles, not supporting roles. John Lithgow absolutely stuns, amazes and jumps right off the screen as some new form of movie monster, gleefully, crazily and howlingly playing Ailes as the alleged sexual harasser, madman, propagandist, crazed conservative, wayward monster, and completely mentally-insane ogre that he was–spewing this, yelling that, using his power and stance and voice and position to lord over everyone, all in terrible, frightening, scary and nightmarish ways. In the film Ailes sexually harasses a parade of women, orders control room directors to film news-readers’ exposed legs while they are on the air, makes outrageous sexual comments in the office, has crazy delusions and spouts crazy conspiracy theories, and outright supports lies and propaganda in Fox News broadcasts that are broadcast on the air. Lithgow, despite playing this horrendous, ugly, gross and criminal monster, seems to be simply having the time of his life. Lithgow, playing a villain in the best manner possible, doesn’t try to find the good in Ailes, and just lets all of the evil spew out of his portrayal, like a polluted industrial smokestack firing ash and black clouds of doom into the sky every day. Lithgow’s performance as Ailes is a bravura show, and it’s a testament to Lithgow’s talent and performance that, as much as Ailes is evil and hateful, it’s one continous entertaining hoot to watch Lithgow inhabit this monster, buried under a mountain of prosthetics and make-up, but still accurately presenting, portraying and being Ailes in all of the person’s polluted sea of un-glory, muck, slime and grime.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the acting spectrum, the also-talented Kate McKinnon turns in another quality performance as a conflicted, but still funny and somehow somewhat dedicated, Fox News newsroom employee who befriends Kayla, then turns her back on Kayla, and then comes around to support Kayla when the truth about Ailes and Fox is too strong and real to ignore. It’s not a flat-out comedic performance, and it’s grounded in reality and drama, and McKinnon manages to find and portray a likeable balance of comedy and drama in her portrayal of Jess Carr.
The dialogue in “Bombshell” is smart, insightful, perceptive–but never too snobby and snotty and bubble-world, despite the bubble-world existence of most of the film’s characters. That’s a testament to screenwriter Randolph, who is smart enough to make these people and these situations relatable to everyone, despite their riches, fame and fortune. Randolph and Roach smartly use the scenario of the movie to make the proceedings a moral lesson for everyone in all situations, as noted, and they manage to keep Kelly, Carlson, Kayla and Carr appropriately likeable and sympathetic, all the while going up against the network villains such as Lithgow’s Ailes, and other vile Fox cretins that pop up here and there, like dead fish in that polluted sea.
Additionally, as “Bombshell” is indeed a talky, dialogue-driven film, kudos must be given to Roach for directing the film in a fast-paced manner–again, just like his own “Game Change” and much like Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” and “Vice”–and kudos must be given to the film’s cinematographer, Barry Ackroyd, and editor Jon Poll for maintaining a brisk and satisfactory, yet still controlled, pacing, timing and editing. When any film is talk-driven, dialogue-driven, it’s a continual challenge to keep the film dramatic, smart, important, attentive to the film’s messages, but also keep the film brisk, well-paced, well-timed and still entertaining and not dumbed-down. Roach keeps this balance, and he, again, continually maintains this balance in all of his political films. McKay continually does this, too.
Collectively, Roach and McKay should receive some special award or set of awards for writing, producing and directing a most important array of political films during the last fifteen years that already stand out as important, and entertaining films, yes, but important and entertaining films that succeed, attract attention, receive praise and maintain high levels of being entertaining–despite being talk- and dialogue-driven dramatic films. If only more and more filmmakers could follow the example of Roach and McKay and produce, direct and write important political, journalistic, cultural and societal films that are talk- and dialogue-driven and present important messages about important subjects. The need for such films has increased year by year, with the increased dependence by dumbed-down studio suits on dumbed-down sequelitis-affected batches of sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots and re-imaginings, most of which are about as imaginative as the next batch of unimaginative Disney sequels, prequels and remakes. Let’s hope that more filmmakers see the works of Roach and McKay, and other similar filmmakers, and are inspired to produce similar smart, insightful movies about important issues.
“Bombshell” is not just a bombshell of a movie, but a bombshell of statement about the dangers of sexual harassment and the importance of fighting it and defeating this madness. “Bombshell is also a bombshell of a statement against the dangers of bias, lies, ignorance and propaganda in the news media, specifically with the conservative rantings, ravings, lies and propaganda from Fox News. Together, these important messages are presented, produced and delivered in “Bombshell” in the form of an entertaining, intelligent, informative and insightful film that everyone should see.