FILM REVIEW – BOMBSHELL. With Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon. Written by Charles Randolph. Directed by Jay Roach. Rated R for sexual material and language throughout. 108 minutes.
BOMBSHELL is the story of how news anchors/personalities Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Megan Kelly (Charlize Theron), took down the reigning creator of FOX News, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). Unfortunately, the movie reduces Ailes to the status of a cartoon villain, though some outstanding performances overcome a script that misses the mark.
The story traces the trajectories of three women at FOX. Carlson was treated like the cheesecake adjunct to her male co-hosts on “FOX and Friends,” the cable news channel’s morning show, and is demoted to a low-rated afternoon slot. Kelly was one of the questioners at a 2016 Republican presidential debate who dared to question then-candidate Donald Trump about how he speaks of women. And Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), is a young producer who wants to get in front of the camera and finds that Ailes demands a show of her “loyalty.” One problem with Kayla – she’s a work of fiction. Or, rather, she’s a “composite” of several women the news chief victimized, so details of her life, such as a fling with a co-worker played by Kate McKinnon, may have happened to someone… or not.
It all builds to the lawsuit filed by Carlson against Ailes after she was fired, as the stories of his predatory ways threaten to go public after investigators find other women ready to tell their stories. It’s a precursor to the #MeToo movement, and a story worth telling, but the film treats the sexual harassment in a bubble, and largely unconnected to who Ailes was and what he created. It doesn’t help that Ailes is played by John Lithgow, a superb actor who is overwhelmed by the “fat suit” and other makeup effects with which he’s saddled. Russell Crowe did a much better job as Ailes in “The Loudest Voice,” a miniseries that ran last summer.
The movie tends to focus on Kelly, and Theron fully inhabits the role. Robbie and Kidman have both been better elsewhere but do their best with sketched-in supporting roles. Those in small roles get their moments, including Malcolm McDowell as FOX owner Rupert Murdoch, Allison Janney as lawyer and Democratic operative Susan Estrich, Connie Britton as Ailes’ stoic wife, and Alanna Ubach gleefully chewing the scenery as the larger-than-life Judge Jeanine Pirro.
While it is unquestionable that sexual harassment is not the sole province of any one political party or faction, to pretend that Ailes didn’t have a specific agenda with FOX News and that his exertion of power and entitlement was a large part of that is to miss the forest for the trees. “Bombshell” is far from a dud, but by limiting its vision, it falls short of the explosive fireworks it might have provided.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.