Bombshell is almost precisely the film that you would expect for a film exploring the world of toxic masculinity and sexual harassment as created by former Fox News head Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) as told by scribe Charles Randolph and as envisioned by director Jay Roach, both of whom are immensely talented individuals who, quite honestly, have no business at the helm of a story that should have been and needs to be told by one of Hollywood's equally talented female scribes and filmmakers.
Representation matters and Bombshell doesn't represent.
This is not to say that Bombshell is a bad film, though it is a film that aims deeper than it ever digs and it doesn't begin to rise up to the level of its immensely talented cast that takes the modest material it's been given and still manages to turn it into something special.
Bombshell opens with the well-documented clash between soon-to-be President Donald Trump and former Fox anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), who accused Trump of declaring war on women. Of course, the war didn't begin with Trump as Bombshell appropriately observes as the film takes us into the misogynistic, objectifying world of Fox News and media outlets like it.
It probably made sense to scribe Charles Randolph, who picked up an Oscar for handling similarly difficult material with The Big Short, to approach Bombshell in a similar way. Yet, there's a snappiness to Bombshell that betrays the gravity of its subject matter and, at times, I'd even proclaim the film to be more than a little empathetic to the downfall of Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), who towered over Fox until Gretchen Carlson's (Nicole Kidman) 2016 sexual harassment lawsuit eventually led to his ousting from the network.
The downfall of Roger Ailes began about a year before the #MeToo movement decimated the career of former Hollywood bigwig Harvey Weinstein. In Ailes's case, it was the summer of 2016 when Carlson filed her sexual harassment lawsuit while Megyn Kelly acknowledged her own experiences of harassment with Ailes and Ailes's demise was soon to be a done deal despite his having the longtime support of Fox owner Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell).
There are times when director Jay Roach, who picked up an Emmy Award for directing Game Change, manages to balance the film's lighter stylings with its heavier substance. This is particularly effective thanks to the spot-on portrayal of Megyn Kelly by Charlize Theron, whose invitation into the Fox News corporate world is filled with a wink and a smile and an almost devilish gleam. We learn just about everything we need to know about the key players and goings-on, yet we somehow never feel guilty even as Theron's Kelly has a spring in her step. While make-up does its share here, it's Theron who does the heavy lifting in capturing the authoritative, unwavering essence of Megyn Kelly. While Randolph's script downplays the less compelling parts of Kelly's ideologies, Theron is remarkable nonetheless.
It's that essence that begins to waver a bit once Kidman's Carlson files her lawsuit and Ailes's initial rebelliousness is replaced by paranoia as more and more women come forward. While Kidman's Carlson is arguably the central focus of the film, there's little denying that Bombshell is Megyn Kelly's film alongside Margot Robbie's turn as fictional associate producer Kayla Pospisil, who's here to essentially represent all the other women harassed by Ailes and who is personified as a Jesus lovin' media freak who is first inspired then disillusioned by the world that she enters. Robbie is handed one of the film's more brutally uncomfortable scenes, though, again it's made more uncomfortable by the fact that the scene was written by a male for a fictional character.
In many ways given the most emotional variation to play, Margot Robbie once again earns all the accolades she's receiving.
John Lithgow is also given a mighty range to work with her and, indeed, he shows his full range to tremendous effect. While I'll confess I found the whole fat-suit thing moderately distracting, Lithgow still manages to soar here.
Alanna Ubach may be most successful of all as Jeannine Pirro, while Allison Janney turns in her usual dependable work as Susan Estrich. Kevin Dorff hits a homer as Bill O'Reilly. As a closeted lesbian producer for O'Reilly, Kate McKinnon gives the film some of its natural humor.
If you've seen the trailer, then you already know that Colleen Atwood's costume design is mighty impressive in both impressive and occasionally uncomfortable ways.
While Bombshell ultimately falls short of the Oscar buzzy praise it seems to be getting, the film's ensemble cast is still impressive and Oscar nominations for Theron and either Kidman or Robbie seem likely. Lithgow seems like more of a longshot, though Lithgow has long been popular in Hollywood and it certainly can't be ruled out.
Ultimately as biased as the network it portrays and hindered by the mansplaining of Charles Randolph's script and Jay Roach's well-meaning yet shallow take on the entire story, Bombshell is too bogged down by trying to entertain to truly be the bombshell it claims to be.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic