Directed by Jay Roach.
Starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Allison Janney, Kate McKinnon, Mark Duplass, Alice Eve, Alanna Ubach, Nazanin Boniadi, Elisabeth Röhm, Madeline Zima, Ashley Greene, Rob Delaney, Brooke Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Spencer Garrett, Andy Buckley, Liv Hewson, Ahna O’Reilly, P. J. Byrne, Ben Lawson, Anne Ramsay, Josh Lawson, Bonnie Dennison, Bree Condon, and Malcolm McDowell.
A group of women decide to take on Fox News head Roger Ailes and the toxic atmosphere he presided over at the network.
Bombshell appears to have been conceived by director Jay Roach (Trumbo) and writer Charles Randolph with no clear character focus. It doesn’t study Roger Ailes enough as last year’s Vice did to Dick Cheney to function as something depressingly thought-provoking and darkly funny or any of its central women enough to tell a compelling story about any of them. What’s most fascinating is that the strongest aspect of the film comes from Margot Robbie’s Kayla, the only fictional character of the trio of pertinent Fox News ladies (possibly a composite character), and her friendship with closeted lesbian democrat Jess (played by Kate McKinnon, who easily gives the best performance of her career, for once holding back on trademark quirkiness to portray an empathetic human being).
If anything, the issue is that aside from the rampant sexual harassment on display (some of it played for black comedy as random anchors with caveman intellect complement on the beauty and wardrobe of various women) Fox News itself is presented as rather tame, or fair and balanced. Given the subject of Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson (both remarkably played by Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman respectively, with the former transformed so deep into character aesthetically and audibly it’s instantly difficult to spot the actor) one would expect to come away with more conflicted feelings rather than a sympathetic story regarding women fearing to level their allegations for concern of how it will affect their journalistic careers and how it will define them as individuals. We are dealing with main characters that have a history of racist remarks and all-around ugly rhetoric, which could have been used as a tough-to-swallow juxtaposition for the sexual harassment; complicate audience reaction rather than tell the easiest narrative.
Granted, there is a reference to Megyn Kelly’s confusion over a non-white Santa Claus, but Bombshell is more concerned with painting her as a heroic symbol, opening with her going straight after Donald Trump. Admittedly, this does work for quite a few reasons; any opportunity to poke fun at Trump in a movie (especially his nonstop childish insult tweeting that routinely goes on into the wee hours of the night) is good for a laugh (Charles Randolph co-wrote The Big Short with Adam McKay, which is a good indicator of the comedy on display here), and the endless barrage of hate mail and paparazzi stalking as the fallout from her daring to take on the then probable Republican party nominee does give strong insight as to why she would be hesitant towards exposing Roger Ailes as a sexual predator.
Unfortunately, Bombshell doesn’t really know what to do with Roger either. The makeup effects and prosthetic work done to John Lithgow is commendable but nowhere near the quality of work done on Christian Bale in Vice, who was 100% unrecognizable to the point where it’s easy to forget he’s in the movie. Roger Ailes is distinctly John Lithgow in a fat suit, and that thought process never really goes away. This is actually easy to overlook when the film is giving him sinister material to work with, namely a hard-to-watch, a downright uncomfortable segment where he forces Kayla to show an excessive amount of skin for him if she wants to get ahead in her career. This dynamic is made all the more intriguing by Kayla’s family practically serving as a religiously Fox News household with Kayla herself as someone with conservatives values, especially in regards to revealing herself. Sadly, that’s not the end of her pain, but it’s the way she and Jess work through navigating the toxic environment that makes for the most engaging scenes. Bombshell should have just been a whole movie on those two characters. As for Roger, this is a surface-level analysis of men in power and what compelled him to abuse it.
If the narrative divide between the central characters wasn’t enough, there is also a parade of cameos that amount to nothing; sometimes the tone is thrown completely off-balance going from lighthearted fare to sexual assault conversations. Nicole Kidman’s Gretchen Carlson has the least amount of screen time despite being one of the most integral components to exposing Roger. The worst part is that whenever one does start to get interested into the various individual storylines, the focus shifts somewhere else in frustration; Bombshell has one of the best ensembles of the year (and not just limited to the female talent) that falls slightly short of maximizing the potential depth of their characters.
It either needs to be a study of pure evil and the driving motivators behind his behavior or a complex woman dropping the titular bombshell. Bombshell simply doesn’t make enough noise with this material, but it is an entertaining romp taking down Fox News. Sadly, the pre-ending credits factoids don’t offer much hope for change within the network’s dodgy infrastructure.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com