“Bombshell” depicts the downfall of Fox News Channel CEO Roger Ailes after sexual harassment allegations. While the film thinks it’s being relevant, director Jay Roach takes no chances with the subject and feels like he is more interested in entertainment value. Although “Bombshell” boasts two terrific award worthy performances from Charlize Theron and John Lithgow, spot on production design, some great makeup work and not much else.
Earlier this year, at the height of the #MeToo movement, before the sleaze ball that is Harvey Weinstein’s scandal had blown up Hollywood. There was another sleaze ball named Roger Ailes (played brilliantly by John Lithgow), who like Weinstein was lurking on his female employees for years. The media mogul, CEO of Fox News Channel and one of the most powerful men in politics saw sexual harassment allegations that hit the network like a grenade, ending his reign as CEO in a matter of weeks.
The new film “Bombshell”, brings the watershed moment to life on the screen, that was led by two of the network’s most prominent stars at the time: Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly. Both who endured racist, sexist attitudes for years from CEO Roger Ailes. The Fox News Channel’s headquarters and studios are located on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, and other news outlets the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal are located within the same skyscraper.
Comedy director Jay Roach, best known for “Austin Powers” and “Meet The Parents” films directs the fictionalization of the sexual harassment scandals at Fox News. “Bombshell” has all the makings of a sharp, satirical takedown in the vein of Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” and Dick Cheney biopic “Vice”. While it wants to be this years “Vice”, it’s script written by Charles Randolph, Oscar-winning co-writer of “The Big Short”, which got its arms around the complicated topic of the 2008 recession.
Although “Bombshell” isn’t as smartly written as “The Big Short”, instead it’s both light on its feet and a punch in the gut. Although the punch is hardly felt and falls more in the line with Hugh Jackman’s political scandal drama “The Front Runner”. Jay Roach also breaks the illusion of the picture by introducing real photos of Ailes before turning it over to Lithgow, giving the movie a docudrama feel, which is something the production returns to periodically.
“Bombshell” follows a traditional, path in telling the stories of Megyn, Gretchen and Kayla, an ambitious producer played by Margot Robbie. Kayla is mortified and sickened by the grubby, creepy advances of Fox News Channel chief Roger Ailes. The sexual harassment scandals that led to the resignation of Roger Ailes as well as prime-time cable news behemoth Bill O’Reilly have been well-chronicled on tv, social media and in print. In fact the Ailes scandal was recently depicted in the Showtime limited series based on the book “The Loudest Voice”. Russell Crowe starred in the ferociously strong performance as the mercurial, brilliant and monstrously manipulative Roger Ailes.
John Lithgow, a truly underrated actor is given his meatiest role in years and his performance here is spectacular. He’s a brilliant actor who convincingly conveys Ailes’ ferocious command of the powerful news channel he created, and his appalling sense of entitlement as he treats female anchors and producers like sexual objects. “Give me a spin”, Lithgow’s Ailes is fond of saying to the usually blonde, always skirt-clad women visiting his office. Having the women give him a spin and asking them to hike up their skirt to the point, their underwear is revealed has no affect on him. As he explains to them it’s all part of the job because the news is a visual medium.
Nicole Kidman portraying Gretchen gives a quiet un-showy performance, it’s nothing awards worthy as she has been better in other roles. Margot Robbie does fine work as she doesn’t really get to stretch her acting chops, especially with being given a relatively thinly written character. Like Kidman she has been better in previous roles.
The standout of the cast, other than John Lithgow, is no doubt Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly. I wasn’t completely familiar with Megyn Kelly so I had to look her up and watch old videos of her on YouTube. Theron who is an incredible actress and one of my favorites completely embodies the news anchor with accuracy from the first moment we see her. You feel as if you’re watching Kelly herself. The makeup design isn’t drastic as Christian Bale’s Dick Cheney or Lithgow’s Roger Ailes. It’s still a miracle of makeup design for sure.
Theron brilliantly captures the tone of Kelly’s voice and the distinctive rhythm, the deep richness and the seductive breathiness. But more importantly, she gets Kelly’s essence, her toughness and her need to be authoritative. Throughout the story we get brief glimpses of actors portraying familiar Fox News personalities and political figures such as Rudy Giuliani, Robert Murdoch, Bill O’ Reilly and Geraldo Rivera. Just take notice of the guy playing Geraldo Rivera who looks like he bought a Geraldo costume at a Halloween store. Despite some uninspired makeup choices, “Bombshell” is one of the best-casted movies of the year.
The production design on “Bombshell” is spot on, especially when it comes to re-creating the look and the atmosphere of the Fox News offices and studios. “Bombshell” isn’t a deep dive into the sexist all boys club that was Fox News, it’s only a skimming of the surface that doesn’t take chances and refuses to really look at the two women who brought Ailes down.
If you’re going to tell this heavy hitting story, which was so integral in protecting women from unsafe work environments, it should feel a little bit uncomfortable and take chances. “Bombshell” is more interested in bringing entertainment value than being relevant. You’ll leave remembering Theron’s extraordinary performance and how perfect John Lithgow and Charlize Theron’s makeup was to look like Roger Ailes and Megyn Kelly.
GRADE: ★★1/2☆☆☆ (2 & 1/2 out of 5)