In Theaters

At some point in our lives, many of us come face to face with situations where we need to make difficult choices and engage in challenging tasks, simply because they’re the right thing to do. Such efforts may test us severely, pushing us to the brink of – and possibly beyond – what we think we’re capable of. Those can be hard times, for sure, but, when we consider what’s at stake – and what we can gain by willingly choosing to act – we’re likely to see that we must do what we do if we’re to live with ourselves. So it is for a beleaguered protagonist in the new fact-based legal thriller, “Dark Waters” (web site. trailer).

Attorney Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) enjoys a comfortable and successful life as a corporate attorney in Cincinnati. He’s made a good career for himself representing companies in the chemical industry, most notably DuPont, one of his firm’s most important clients. In fact, his legal defense work for that organization contributed significantly to him making partner and becoming one of the most trusted advisors to managing partner Tom Terp (Tim Robbins). And, outside of work, Rob is happily married to his wife, Sarah (Anne Hathaway), who gave up her career as a lawyer to become a stay-at-home mother of three. It seems like everything is going his way – that is, until someone walks into his office one day and changes his life forever.

While conferring with his fellow partners, Rob is called out of the meeting when he’s asked for by name by someone he’s never met, West Virginia farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp). Utterly perplexed, Rob asks Wilbur why he specifically wants to see him, to which the stranger replies that he was recommended by one of Rob’s relatives from back home in Parkersburg, WV, where the attorney spent many of his summers while growing up. When Rob then inquires about the nature of Wilbur’s legal needs, the farmer tells him that contaminants had seeped onto his property and poisoned the drinking water source for his herd of cows, killing 190 of them. Wilbur then points the finger at the culprit he believes is behind this problem – the DuPont organization.

Intrepid attorney Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo, center) does an about-face by suing the chemical company giant he once represented in director Todd Haynes’s fact-based legal thriller, “Dark Waters.” Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Focus Features.

Rob tells Wilbur that, since he represents DuPont, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to help him. But something about Wilbur’s story troubles him, so Rob drives to Parkersburg to investigate further. Upon witnessing the harm inflicted on Wilbur’s farm, he feels compelled to see if there is any way he can help. And so, upon returning to Cincinnati, he consults with his peers to discuss an equitable way to work out the situation between Wilbur and DuPont. Rob approaches DuPont executive Phil Donnelly (Victor Garber) to negotiate a settlement arrangement, and the company initially agrees to cooperate. But, before long, matters take a left turn, and the deal is off.

As Rob begins to discover more of what’s really going on in Parkersburg, he sees a bigger problem than just the deaths of Wilbur’s cows. He wants to help those who have been hurt, but he’s also got his obligations to his firm and to DuPont as a client. But, after an anxious discussion with Tom, he persuades the managing partner to back him in his plan to take on the chemical company giant, despite the stakes involved.

Challenging one of the country’s largest and most beloved companies quickly proves to be a much bigger undertaking than anticipated. Rob becomes buried in piles of discovery materials submitted in hopes that the sheer volume will discourage him in his quest. But he’s not the only one who is taken to task; Wilbur comes under fire, too, as Parkersburg residents shun the man who has decided to threaten the community’s largest employer and the livelihood of its many workers, most of whom would be lost without their jobs at DuPont. Despite those obstacles, though, Rob meticulously reviews the discovery materials, and Wilbur sticks to his guns to proceed, public reaction notwithstanding.

Circumstances quickly escalate for all concerned. The long hours involved in reviewing the discovery materials take a toll on Rob’s physical and emotional well-being, as well as the health of his marriage. But, when Rob meets with a chemical expert (John Newberg) and learns what’s behind the pollution, he’s shocked. He discovers that the drinking water has been contaminated with “forever chemicals” – those that don’t break down in the body and accumulate over time – to such an extent that much of the Parkersburg community – and users of products containing these chemicals outside of the area – could well be affected.

West Virginia farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp, left) seeks to sue chemical giant DuPont after losing 190 cows to contaminated drinking water as seen in the new fact-based drama, “Dark Waters.” Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Focus Features.

The greatest concern involves a substance known as PFOA-C8, a chemical that goes into making Teflon. The chemical was originally developed to help protect the exteriors of army tanks but was later adapted for consumer product use, most notably in manufacturing nonstick cooking pans. As Rob learns through his discovery review, DuPont’s own studies revealed that the chemical caused cancer in animals and humans and birth defects in the unborn children of women working at the company’s facilities. This discovery led to ongoing monitoring programs on animals and the organization’s employees – and was implemented without saying a word about the danger. With huge volumes of toxic sludge containing the chemical dumped up river from Wilbur’s farm, it’s not hard to see how his cows became sick – or how Wilbur and his wife, Sandra (Denise Dal Vera), subsequently followed suit.

To make matters worse, PFOA is an unregulated substance, one for which there is no government oversight, including the determination of environmental safety levels, thereby muddying the waters about adequate protection and potential liability. How much is too much? Who makes the determination? What constitutes a violation? And what are the penalties for noncompliance?

Thus begins a protracted legal battle. DuPont offers to settle with Wilbur, a proposal Rob encourages him to accept, but he refuses, contending that he wants justice more than money. In the wake of this, Rob submits a brief to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice that incorporates DuPont’s internal information found during discovery, a move that leads to a sizable fine from the EPA.

However, despite this result, Rob is not satisfied, given that Parkersburg residents will be affected by this problem for the rest of their lives. He subsequently prepares a class action lawsuit when Parkersburg resident Darlene Kiger (Mare Winningham) and her second husband, Joe (Richard Hagerman), come forward with a letter they received from their local water district warning them of the presence of PFOA in their drinking water. Upon receiving this notification, Darlene recalls that her first husband, a DuPont chemist, cautioned her about the dangers of handling his work clothes in light of possible PFOA contamination and the health implications for women and unborn children. Even with taking this precaution, Darlene still needed to undergo an emergency hysterectomy several years later.

This revelation leads to a community-wide medical monitoring program to determine how many Parkersburg residents are affected. The seven-year study, which ends up testing 70,000 people, tries the patience of all concerned, as well as Rob’s own physical health. But, when the results come in, the door to justice opens at last.

Stories like this outrage most of those who hear about them. One wonders how any individual or organization, in all good conscience, could allow circumstances like this to go on for as long as they did. It raises serious questions about priorities.

On his farm outside Parkersburg, WV, farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp, left) shows attorney Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo, right) the extent of the damage done to his property and livestock in “Dark Waters.” Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Focus Features.

In a scenario like this, where profits are placed before people, that outcome would seem to take priority, regardless of whatever consequences may accompany it. This is obviously a problematic course to follow, for there may be all manner of unintended side effects and fallout. In a situation like this, where the company knowingly engages in this sort of behavior, it’s difficult to believe that it couldn’t envisage the negative consequences, especially after its own studies found them to be occurring. Of course, when this happens, there’s usually hell to pay eventually, as DuPont finds out when it’s hauled into court.

As noble and high-minded as taking on a cause like this might seem, doing so may prove more challenging than anticipated. This means that the crusader pursuing such a quest must be equally firm in his, her or its convictions to counter the opposition. Fortunately, Rob had those elements in place in his efforts. For example, his cause was rooted in integrity, a keen awareness that he was doing the right thing. This becomes especially apparent in a scene that has nothing to do with a courtroom or law office; it’s a late night at the Bilott home when he’s noisily and frenetically rummaging through the kitchen pots and pans, a clamor that awakens his pregnant wife and prompts her to think her stressed-out husband has lost it. However, when he calms down and earnestly explains the staggering ramifications behind what PFOA can do when it makes its way into the home and into one’s bloodstream – especially that of an expectant mother – his sincerity becomes all too clear. And, when he applies the same level of conviction to his legal efforts that he does in explaining the situation to Sarah, the strength of those beliefs is obvious – and equal to those being put forth by the other side.

In addition to the integrity underpinning his efforts, Rob approaches his work with unbridled fearlessness, a heroic courage that drives him to keep moving forward despite the potential consequences that could befall him and his law firm. In taking on Wilbur’s case (and, eventually, that of all Parkersburg residents), he runs the risk of losing a lot – his career, his financial well-being, his health and his marriage, to name just a few items. He also faces the possibility of losing credibility and being labeled a hypocrite, given that, prior to the West Virginia cases, he made a rather comfortable living advising chemical companies how they could pollute the environment without breaking the law. But, considering what he sees has happened, is happening and will likely continue to happen if not challenged, he knows someone has to step up to the plate and take on the forces behind these incidents, no matter how imposing they may seem and how much clout the perpetrators may have with a conciliatory government, their faithful customers and their loyal employees.

When all is said and done, Rob comes to know that this is the path he must follow. No matter what hardships, trials and tribulations might come his way, he realizes that taking on this challenge is his destiny. And, because of this, he arms himself with the wherewithal needed to make his cause work.

Tom Terp (Tim Robbins), managing partner of a Cincinnati-based corporate law firm that specializes in defending chemical companies, struggles with what to do when one of his organization’s partners wants to sue one of its biggest clients in director Todd Haynes’s “Dark Waters.” Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Focus Features.

“Dark Waters” is one of the most important films to come along in quite some time, not only for the heroic example it sets both practically and metaphysically speaking, but also because of the cause it champions – that of individuals taking back their personal power. It’s unfortunate that it hasn’t received more attention than it has, given that it truly deserves it. Despite some occasional tendencies toward being formulaic, director Todd Haynes’s new fact-based thriller explores the efforts of a determined community, led by a courageous and ethical attorney, to take on a major chemical corporation hiding the dangers of its products and the fallout that comes with it. Based on the 2016 New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,” the film avails itself of an excellent script, one that does a fine job explaining the complex litigious questions involved, detailing the implications of the crusaders’ actions without resorting to jargon or unfathomable legalese, and in outlining the complicated science at the heart of the case. Then there are the superb performances of Ruffalo as the heroic lawyer and Camp as his outraged and victimized client. This is an important story, one that’s well told and doesn’t hold anything back, a tale that should inspire us all to action when it comes to tragedies such as this.

We’re indeed fortunate to have individuals like Rob Bilott in our midst. Were it not for his efforts, the residents of Parkersburg – and even the world beyond its borders – might not have had someone to champion their cause, one that carries implications far greater than what was originally imagined. Succeeding in tasks such as this may require wading into some very dark waters, a prospect many of us would be loath to face. But, thankfully, the beneficial outcomes of these ventures frequently prove worth it, aiding us all when the odds are seemingly stacked against us.

A complete review of this film is available by clicking here.

What Makes a Relationship Succeed – or Fail


It’s sad when a relationship comes to an end, even when it’s the best thing for the partners involved. But matters can become that much worse when the parting becomes inflamed with heated rhetoric and venomous emotions, not only for those directly involved, but also for those touched by the fallout. Such is painful saga outlined in the gripping new family drama, “Marriage Story” (web site, trailer).

From all outward appearances, Charlie and Nicole Barber (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) have what seems to be a happy and fulfilling marriage. But, as quickly becomes apparent, looks can be deceiving. After years of simmering tensions between the two of them, the New York theater company director and his actress wife have agreed to divorce, a process they hope to implement with civility, cooperation and the best of intentions. They hope to make the transition as smoothly and seamlessly as possible for all concerned, especially their young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson).

However, those hopes are quickly dashed. Despite their agreement to work with a mediator (Robert Smigel) to cushion the separation process, those plans go out the window when Nicole reneges and refuses to cooperate. And, not long thereafter, matters are further derailed when Nicole accepts an offer for a television pilot, an opportunity that takes her to Los Angeles – with Henry in tow. Suddenly the Barbers have become bicoastal parents, with Henry caught between his increasingly contentious mom and dad.

Divorcing parents Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson, left) and husband Charlie (Adam Driver, right) wrestle with custody issues involving their young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson, center), in director Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” Photo by Wilson Webb, courtesy of Netflix.

It isn’t until Nicole arrives in California that viewers begin to learn what’s really been going on between her and Charlie. During impassioned venting sessions with her mother, Sandra (Julie Hagerty), her sister, Cassie (Merritt Wever), and especially her newly hired divorce lawyer, Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern), Nicole offloads what’s been bugging her. And she has a lot to say.

According to Nicole, Charlie perpetually put his vocational needs first, making her aspirations secondary, despite his willingness to feature her prominently in his theatrical productions. This, combined with the obligations of motherhood, left her feeling unfulfilled, dismissed and ignored (in a word, “smaller”). What’s more, as an Angelino by birth, she longed to explore career options in her hometown and not just those on the New York stage, something she claimed Charlie always downplayed or placed on the back burner. Oh, and, if that weren’t enough, she suspects he slept with his theater company’s stage manager.

Upon hearing all this, Nora convinces Nicole that she’s got quite a case, one ripe for a generous settlement. However, this news only serves to inflame an already-tense situation. When Charlie learns that Nicole has hired an attorney, he’s upset, given that they had originally agreed to work out their separation without lawyers becoming involved. What’s more, once Nicole’s TV pilot is picked up as a series, she decides to relocate to California permanently, a living arrangement that includes Henry. What started out as a hoped-for amicable parting has now begun to get ugly.

Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) seeks a divorce from her husband Charlie, claiming that he’s placed her needs secondary to his, as seen in the gripping new drama, “Marriage Story.” Photo by Wilson Webb, courtesy of Netflix.

To protect his rights, Charlie amps up his game by looking to hire an attorney of his own, Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta), a hard-nosed, pricey counselor who is everything that he had hoped he could avoid. He soon discovers, though, that Jay is someone whom he neither can nor wants to afford, both financially and ethically. Yet, if he’s to preserve his child custody rights, he needs to find replacement counsel quickly, a requirement that urgently leads him to Bert Spitz (Alan Alda), a less expensive, more conciliatory family law attorney.

On Bert’s advice, to help secure his rights in the eyes of the court, Charlie rents an apartment in Los Angeles to demonstrate his desire to be close to his son. He begins dividing his time between the coasts, working on the launch of a new Broadway production while doing what he can to try and keep things civil in his divorce proceedings. Circumstances deteriorate further, though, when the legal bickering intensifies, with accusations and maneuverings that become downright vicious, sometimes to an utterly preposterous level. Even Jay returns to the fray when Charlie admits he needed to hire “an asshole of his own” to fight on his behalf. By this point, it’s hard to imagine that these two people ever loved one another – or that they’ll ever be able to reach a workable agreement, especially where Henry is concerned.

Many of us would naïvely like to believe that love is all it takes to make a relationship succeed. If only that were true. However, as anyone who has ever been involved with someone for the long term knows, it calls for more than just a romantic connection. It also takes a commitment to hammer out all of the details that go into building a partnership on multiple levels, all of which require a high degree of mutual agreement for them to work. And that may prove to be more challenging than being able to love someone else, no matter how much.

Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) struggles to hold on to his child custody rights in contentious divorce proceedings with his wife, Nicole, in director Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” now available for streaming on Netflix. Photo by Wilson Webb, courtesy of Netflix.

How all of those other elements come together depends on the views held by each party, and that’s important to recognize, for those intentions lead to what a couple manifests for themselves. Given the challenges we can each experience at this individually, it can be that much more difficult getting two individuals on the same page when it comes to this process. And, when seeking to build a life together, think about the myriad areas in which a couple needs to pursue agreement – living arrangements, finances, career aspirations, having children and hopes for the future, to name but just a few. Now, considering that many of us have trouble enough achieving satisfaction in any of those areas by ourselves, it’s truly quite an undertaking when partners seek to tackle them together. The fact that a couple is able to attain concurrence on any one of these various fronts – let alone all of them – is indeed amazing. Which is why it’s not entirely surprising that disagreements are going to occur along the way. And, if there are enough of them, it’s not too difficult to imagine discord springing up in the relationship. Should they reach a serious enough degree, the relationship can easily be thrown into jeopardy – which can lead a couple to where Charlie and Nicole are at.

This is not to suggest that such situations are irreparable. If both partners are aware of a problem, they can discuss the matter, preferably by deeply examining what’s at the root cause of the disagreement. Through effective listening and a willingness to cooperate in finding a workable solution, it’s entirely possible for a couple to arrive at more amenable notions that address the issues at hand and give them both what they want. Everybody wins.

However, when those considerations aren’t brought into play, it’s not unusual for circumstances to spin out of control. Those conditions, in turn, can lead to the formation of negative outlooks that each partner may begin to hold about the other – beliefs that don’t do much to nurture and support the viability of the relationship, such as resentment and spite. Once qualities like that enter into the mix, it becomes increasingly difficult to go back, even to recognize the love that birthed the partnership in the first place. With the well poisoned, it’s often downhill from there, especially if advocates for each partner become involved and turn up the volume of the arguments between them. And, again, you have Charlie and Nicole.

Divorce lawyer Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern, left) advises her client, Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson, right), about her rights in parting from husband Charlie in director Noah Baumbach’s latest offering, “Marriage Story.” Photo by Wilson Webb, courtesy of Netflix.

One of the points “Marriage Story” drives home quite effectively is how totally absurd some of these vindictiveness-driven views can become. Divorcing partners and their attorneys can distort their impressions of one other all out of proportion, resulting in ludicrous, completely inaccurate, even laughable depictions of one another. This can be especially true when implemented to drive up the stakes of a settlement, where a particular outcome is sought with no consideration for the consequences. The result can be far more devastating for all involved (and that can include more than just the divorcing partners, such as situations where children are involved).

The key to avoiding such outcomes – and perhaps to avoiding divorce in the first place – is to aspire to successful acts of co-creation. Through this practice, both partners seek to formulate, define and implement intents aimed at achieving mutually agreeable results, no matter what aspect of the relationship is being addressed. If employed as an overarching principle in the way the marriage works, there is a far greater likelihood of achieving harmony and long-term success. And, even if the relationship ultimately does not succeed, divorcing partners could at least attempt to employ co-creation as a means of coming up with a workable settlement, one that leads to separation on amicable terms, particularly where custody questions come into play. One can only hope that Charlie and Nicole will find it within themselves to come up with such a solution for themselves – if not for their own sake, then at least for Henry’s.

While some critics and viewers have correctly said that this film covers ground that’s been addressed before and that it occasionally tends to play like both a therapy session and a legal consultation, writer-director Noah Baumbach’s latest nevertheless offers an engaging mix of heartache and humor, showing the pain and utter absurdity that goes into the dissolution of a marriage. The truly superb ensemble cast, with excellent performances by Johansson, Driver, Liotta, Hagerty, Alda and, especially, Dern, coupled with a razor-sharp script, make for a dynamite combination that reaches out, grabs and holds audience attention from beginning to end. Arguably Baumbach’s best film, this offering is more than deserving of all the praise that it has rightfully had heaped upon it. You’ll laugh, you might cry and you’ll definitely feel the heart strings tugged with this one, but the picture assuredly earns the reactions it evokes. The film is still in limited theatrical release and is also available for streaming on Netflix.

Divorcing parents Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson, left) and husband Charlie (Adam Driver, right) embark on a bitter course of proceedings in director Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” Photo by Wilson Webb, courtesy of Netflix.

“Marriage Story” has already picked up quite a haul of awards season nominations, with more likely to follow. The picture leads the pack of this year’s Golden Globe Award offerings, earning nods for best dramatic picture, best screenplay and best score, as well as acting nominations for Driver, Johansson and Dern. It also scored big in the Critics Choice Award competition, with nominations for best picture, best director, best screenplay and best score, along with acting nominations for Driver, Johansson, Dern and the ensemble cast. Driver, Johansson and Dern picked up additional nominations for their performances in the Screen Actors Guild Awards contest, portrayals that helped earn the picture a National Board of Review Award as one of 2019’s Top 10 Films. And, in the Independent Spirit Awards competition, “Marriage Story” has already been named the winner of the Robert Altman Award for best ensemble cast, as well as a best screenplay nominee.

In an age when so many of us find ourselves at odds with others, it would be comforting to believe that we could at least find protection from those storms in the sanctuary of our relationships. Unfortunately, even those involvements aren’t always immune from the impact of such contentiousness, presenting us with another source of conflict, one that can be particularly disconcerting given the highly personal arena in which the disagreement unfolds. One can only hope that films like “Marriage Story” provide us with sufficient cautionary tales to avoid the pitfalls of relationships gone awry – and remind us of the tremendous joys that got us into them in the first place.

A complete review is available by clicking here.


When patently unfair circumstances arise, many of us have a natural tendency to want to make them known, exposing the perpetrators for their misdeeds. But, when extenuating conditions – particularly those that could significantly impact us personally – intrude upon our willingness to step forward, we may find ourselves putting on the brakes when we don’t want to. Resolving such quandaries can often prove difficult, especially when we stand a lot to lose. So it is for a trio of dedicated, hard-working journalists who find themselves unduly imposed upon in the new fact-based drama, “Bombshell” (web site, trailer).

Over the course of two decades, television executive Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) built the Fox News channel into cable TV’s most successful news outlet. By 2016, Ailes helped make it the most profitable property of its parent media organization, News Corp, much to the delight of the conglomerate’s CEO, Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell). And he did it by targeting a particular underserved audience – one closely resembling his own sensibilities – and getting the most out of his fanatically loyal (though some might say rigidly coerced) team of employees. Regardless of what one might have thought about the channel’s politics, policies, practices and pundits, Fox News was undoubtedly a success story – and an immense cash cow.

So what was that underserved audience that Ailes courted? It was the conservative right wing of the American political landscape, a constituency that was mostly White, male and “traditional” in its prevailing outlooks. Ailes skillfully amassed a staff of on-air talent and producers who knew how to appeal to that audience. And, to secure the loyalty of the network’s core viewers, Ailes assembled a team of beautiful, leggy female anchors and correspondents, a veritable palette of stunningly gorgeous, mostly blonde eye candy sure to appeal to those who liked a little voyeurism with their news. Critics of this approach to team building were quick to call it sexist, accusations that Ailes handily brushed aside by glibly observing that “television is a visual medium.”

Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), head of Fox News, watches his career evaporate before his eyes as devastating allegations of sexual harassment emerge in “Bombshell.” Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle SMPSP, courtesy of Lionsgate.

Regardless of Ailes’s tactics, one couldn’t deny his success. Some might even say that his tightly focused, specifically targeted plan for reaching his core audience was brilliant, effectively tapping into and capturing the attention of the viewership he was seeking to land. However, considering the specific practices Ailes used in achieving his goals – especially where recruiting on-air talent was concerned – any praise he might have received was instantly called into question. The reason: Ailes assembled much of his team through sexual innuendo and coercion, swapping career opportunities and promotions for “favors” characterized by leering looks, salacious comments and bald-faced propositions for acts of sexual submission. Despite his professed claims in support of journalistic integrity and broadcast professionalism, the cheesecake factor frequently figured into his plans. And, with the ever-looming threat of retaliation or dismissal for noncompliance or disloyalty hanging in the balance, those who didn’t bow to Roger’s wishes could face serious consequences if they didn’t play ball.

However, over time, word of Ailes’s sexual harassment began leaking throughout the organization. Previously silent employees began tentatively speaking to one another, comparing notes about their own experiences or sharing stories that they had heard about peers. This became obvious when certain developments emerged, such as undeniable demotions for those who failed to cooperate with Roger’s wishes, either in disagreements with his editorial viewpoints or rebuffs to his sexual advances. An organization long kept in line by its head’s unbridled manipulative practices was at last beginning to crack.

“Bombshell” tells this story through the personal experiences of three Fox staffers: Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), one of the channel’s biggest on-air assets, who had been harassed at one time but who was reluctant to step forward to publicly criticize her boss years after the fact, given the successful career she had built for herself; Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), a onetime Fox success story who had been systemically demoted for her “divergent” on-air views and her resistance to Ailes’s advances, some of which she secretly recorded without his knowledge; and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a composite fictional character said to be based on several Fox employees whose enthusiasm to move up through the ranks soon brought her face to face with the way things really worked in Roger’s organization. Through their interwoven stories and the characters’ ongoing interactions with Ailes, viewers see how the organization’s dirty little secret mushroomed into a major scandal that brought swift action at Fox News and increased public attention to the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Fox News staffers Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron, left), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman, center) and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie, right) face career challenges related to sexual harassment in director Jay Roach’s “Bombshell.” Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle SMPSP, courtesy of Lionsgate.

When faced with the kinds of difficulties present here, those affected faced some hard choices. Do they blow the whistle on someone who was using his power to try to control their destinies? Or do they keep quiet to preserve what they’ve attained? With so much on the line, the decisions they made invariably came down to what they believed was more important. And that, in turn, impacted what materialized in their lives.

In making these decisions, the harassment victims needed to establish their priorities, a process that’s more difficult than one might think. Outsiders, for instance, might have easily said that no self-respecting individual should have to put up with the kind of abuse to which they were subjected. However, when faced with the loss of one’s livelihood, as well as the likelihood that one’s journalism career would be over (those who left Fox were seldom taken seriously as job candidates by other news organizations), victims had to think twice about making waves. This was especially true in light of “The Black Room,” a clandestine rogue operation run by Ailes to spy on journalists, including, allegedly, those who worked for Fox who were suspected of the kind of disloyalty the big boss so detested.

Thus, with all of this pressure in place, speaking up was risky business. Even if someone worked up the gumption to take on the organization, Ailes made it difficult to challenge the machine by structuring employment contracts with clauses requiring grievances against Fox to be settled through arbitration, not litigation. The only way to get at him was to sue him personally, a steep hill to climb without proof. Fortunately, though, one victim thought ahead when it came to that front, compiling the evidence to make such a lawsuit possible.

Demoted Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) plans her strategy to seek restitution against her retaliatory boss in “Bombshell.” Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle SMPSP, courtesy of Lionsgate.

This innovative strategy illustrates that, in the end, nothing is impossible without a little ingenuity, an outcome made possible by successfully breaking through perceived limitations. By coming up with inventive approaches to seemingly insurmountable problems, we can indeed overcome the most formidable obstacles – even the kind erected by Roger Ailes himself.

In addition to matters of personal well-being, the priority sorting process involved other less tangible (but nonetheless significant) considerations. As noted previously, Ailes demanded loyalty from his employees, and, for those who gave it, he rewarded them handsomely. In many cases, this led to the development of a strong sense of allegiance, often despite his transgressions. Some Fox staffers found it difficult to abandon such attitudes, afraid that their actions would constitute personal betrayals that they were unwilling to make. This became especially apparent when allegations against Ailes began circulating widely, prompting his most devoted in-house supporters to come up with a “Team Roger” campaign in which they staunchly urged co-workers to wear tee shirts bearing that slogan.

However, as the degree of accusations exploded, these newly developing circumstances made it increasingly difficult for even the most dedicated employees to stay silent. As time passed, prevailing conditions made it easy to alter their underlying outlooks. Again, change finds a way when there’s a will to drive it.

Of course, not everyone’s view is capable of being easily changed. As the film illustrates, Roger’s wife, Beth (Connie Britton), and his lawyer, Susan Estrich (Allison Janney), are reluctant to agree with the charges leveled against him. Beth, in fact, tries to brush them off by suggesting that her husband’s lewd comments are nothing more than a reflection of his “salty” sense of humor. Such blind obedience, both on her part and even that of some Fox staffers, illustrates how stubbornly persistent beliefs can be, something that can prove devastatingly disillusioning in the long run.

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron, left) and staff aide Lily Balin (Liv Hewson, right) consider their options as news of sexual harassment allegations against their boss explode in the new historical drama, “Bombshell.” Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle SMPSP, courtesy of Lionsgate.

What’s most inspiring in this story, though, is the willingness of the victims to ultimately step forward. They may have operated largely independent of one another, but their collective effort had a tremendous cumulative impact. They effectively challenged the position of someone who thought he was untouchable. They collectively helped foster change within an organization where sexual harassment was not accorded the seriousness it deserved (especially since it eventually reared its ugly head with individuals other than just Ailes). And they helped bring new awareness to the problem in workplace culture throughout America, not just within the ranks of Fox News.

The outcomes obtained by these courageous individuals reflect their resolve to live out their destiny, to be their best, truest selves for the betterment of themselves and those around them. Despite the difficulties they may have experienced along the way, the efforts they expended to achieve change were worth it in the end. It was their fate to do what they did, and, fortunately, they formulated and implemented the means they needed both individually and collectively to achieve the results they sought. Talk about fair and balanced.

Reviews of this explosive exposé have run the gamut from highly praiseworthy for taking on such a sensitive subject to utterly disappointing that it doesn’t “do more” in exploring the roots of its underlying issue. This is a conundrum I find hard to fathom. Frankly, I don’t understand what disappointed viewers expected out of this release, but I find their criticisms misplaced. The picture tells a specific story; it’s not an overview treatise on the subject matter. Thus the suggestion that “Bombshell” should have somehow addressed this material in a way that it wasn’t intended to be handled in the first place is an unfair disparagement – and one this film doesn’t deserve.

Aspiring Fox News journalist Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie, left) and colleague Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon, right) wonder what the future holds as allegations of sexual harassment by their organization’s boss explode in the new historical drama, “Bombshell.” Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle SMPSP, courtesy of Lionsgate.

For the most part, I found director Jay Roach’s latest to be a worthwhile offering, serving up a probing look at a troubling story that effectively mixes cynicism, satire and serious drama in examining a troubling workplace issue. The film’s superb ensemble cast features excellent performances across the board from Theron, Kidman, Robbie, Lithgow, Janney and McDowell, and its inventive storytelling approaches – though at times a little gimmicky – generally keep the picture fresh and engaging throughout.

“Bombshell” has been lavishly honored with awards season nominations, especially in the acting categories. For her efforts, Theron has earned Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice Award nominations in the lead actress categories, while Robbie has received comparable honors in the supporting categories. Kidman, meanwhile, has picked up a supporting actress nod of her own in the SAG Award competition. In addition, the film’s ensemble has received nominations in the SAG and Critics Choice Award contests, as well as a CCA nod for best hair and makeup.

In this day and age, it’s hard to believe that victims still have to contend with an issue like this. Cases have been successfully brought against offenders for decades, so it’s not like the consequences of these actions are unknown or anything new. And yet there are still culprits out there who believe they can get away with such actions. Fortunately, there are courageous souls out there who are willing to step up and challenge the guilty parties – and, thankfully, their fearless, intrepid efforts can prove to be powerful bombshells in themselves.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2019-20, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.