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Film reviews: Bombshell / Waves / Just Mercy

Uplifting: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie as TV anchors

THE BIG RELEASE

Bombshell

(15) ★★★★✩

THE triple threat of Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron signifies the importance of Bombshell, the defining movie of Hollywood’s #MeToo era.

A glossy media satire based on recent true events at Fox News, it possesses that alluring frisson of the ‘real’, although most Brits won’t recognise the major players. Theron heads the cast as anchorwoman Megyn Kelly, though for a good five minutes I didn’t recognise her under seamless prosthetics created by make-up artist Kazu Hiro (Darkest Hour).

Kelly is riding high at Fox but colleague Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) is on the way out after refusing to grant sexual favours to Fox’s skirt-grabbing president Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). As Carlson contemplates turning whistleblower on Ailes’s systematic sex abuse, Ailes himself is eyeing up new (fictional) recruit Kayla (Robbie), offering to help her ‘jump the queue’ of wannabes if she can ‘find a way to prove her loyalty’ to him.

This superbly acted Faustian tale may inhabit the world of white privilege but it is terrific at unpicking the workplace sexism millions of ordinary women face every day. In particular, it is great on the complexities of compromise, at showing how women become complicit in maintaining a sexist system that oppresses them and those beneath them.

As Kelly says: ‘Roger does not tell us what to say on air. He doesn’t have to.’ After all, it’s their ‘choice’, isn’t it? Don’t want to wear short skirts, high heels and sit at a see-through desk? Well, you can always (try to) work elsewhere.

With plenty of laughs along the way, Bombshell delivers the whoop-in-the-air sisterhood polemic most moviegoers will crave but it doesn’t soft-soap too many edges. Few, if any, of these characters are likeable, let alone feminist role models. Our supposed heroine, Kelly, for example, has notoriously insisted on air that ‘Jesus was a white man, as was Santa’.

The sex-for-power trade-off will likely always be with us but hopefully Ailes’s motto that ‘to get ahead you have to give a little head’ is now slightly less acceptable.

The verdict

A Fox Force Three of Kidman, Robbie and Theron ignite this explosive media satire.

Waves

(15) ★★★★✩

Shades of former Oscar winners Moonlight and Boyhood tinge this exhilaratingly ambitious family melodrama. The opening, giddyingly confident, two-thirds belongs to Tyler (a star-making turn by Bafta Rising Star nominee Kelvin Harrison Jr), an arrogant high-school wrestler with a sexy girlfriend and a secret painkiller addiction, whose charmed life rapidly spirals out of control.

The second, rather short-changed chapter, gearshifts to Tyler’s quieter little sister (newcomer Taylor Russell) and her budding friendship with her brother’s wrestling mate (a reliably A-star Lucas Hedges).

This is the third film by prodigiously talented 31-year-old writer/director Trey Edward Shults (It Comes At Night) and he’s declared it his most personal. A movie of peaks and troughs, whirligig camerawork and richly expansive soundscapes, Waves explores so much in its 135 minutes, most notably toxic parental dynamics and the ripple effects of racism on a suburban African-American family.

‘We can’t afford the luxury of being average,’ barks Tyler’s bullish father (an award-worthy Sterling K Brown).

An imperfect yet utterly thrilling watch.

Just Mercy

(12A) ★★★✩✩

In 1987, Walter McMillian, a poor black truck driver from Alabama (Jamie Foxx) is sent to death row for the murder of an 18-year-old white girl. All evidence points to the fact he didn’t do it.

However, McMillian, like too many other black inmates, is unjustly bound for the electric chair until an idealistic young African-American Harvard attorney, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan), arrives on the scene, determined to tackle the system’s entrenched racism.

It’s the fight-against-injustice legal drama we’ve all seen many times before and Just Mercy isn’t interested in giving it a showy new spin. Instead the extraordinary, hope-inspiring true story is allowed to speak for itself, powered along by committed turns by Jordan and Brie Larson, who gives unflashy support as Stevenson’s co-worker. To cap it off, Jamie Foxx’s beautifully subtle turn counts among the actor’s finest to date.