Roger Ailes was a profoundly flawed guy. The disgraced former chairman and CEO of Fox News died in 2017. And although he was an unhealthy fellow, his fall from grace via a wide-reaching sexual harassment scandal no doubt contributed to his passing at age 77.
“Bombshell” is about the demise of his career. It’s also about the beginning of the end of an antiquated and insidious corporate culture. We see the story through the eyes of three women who stand up to him and the network that, for many years, looked the other way. Director Jay Roach (“Trumbo” and “Meet the Parents”) works from an inventive script by Charles Randolph (Oscar winner for “The Big Short”) to walk the tightrope between what we know and what we think we know.
Central to the success of this film is the uncanny performance by Charlize Theron as the polarizing former Fox superstar anchor, Megyn Kelly. Not only does Theron look the part, but the voice and mannerisms are spot on. While a lot of this movie makes use of amusing mimicry, Theron’s work creates a fully formed character that seamlessly melds with our pre-existing familiarity with the popular host. Theron is Kelly.
Less convincing, but none-the-less solid is Nicole Kidman as former Miss America turned Fox anchor. Carlson was the lead figure, who brought Ailes down with a lawsuit in 2016, at a time when the network was in the throes of presidential election coverage.
A third woman, a Fox producer named Kayla Pospisil, is played by Margot Robbie. Pospisil is a composite, a fictitious character created to represent other women who accused Ailes of wrong-doing.
Ailes is played by John Lithgow, wearing a fair amount of prosthetics. Lithgow certainly looks the part. If you’re confused thinking that you’ve seen this character on screen before, you might be thinking of Russell Crowe as Ailes in Showtime’s well-regarded mini-series, “The Loudest Voice,” that was released earlier this year.
Because writer Randolph had great award-winning success with director Adam McKay in 2015’s immensely entertaining and insightful “The Big Short,” he seemed to be the logical choice to pen this current-event story. And early on, we get some of his familiar touches. Breaking the fourth wall, Megyn Kelly introduces the players and the environment with a zippy sequence that even features a model of the Fox News building, highlighting essential floors.
By having characters speak directly to the audience, we get their internal monologue, providing some contextual insight into their motivations and backstories. But Jay Roach isn’t Adam McKay, and this approach proves to be a bit unwieldy, at times. For example, various narrations of the three (or more) characters all seem to flow together. We get a shot of one woman with another’s voice in voice-over. I found it confusing.
Also, unlike McKay’s spirited use of breaking the fourth wall, remember Margot Robbie in that bathtub in “The Big Short,” Roach throttles back and tries to give us a straight story while also retaining some “hacked” narrative elements. It makes the film uneven. I wished that the hacked approach was permitted to run more wild ramping up the satirical in a way that helped mask the mimicry.
For example, we see shots of the Fox newsroom with a Bill O’Reilly look-a-like. Later, we see Bree Condon doing her best Kimberly Guilfoyle impression. And we even see the great Richard Kind playing Rudy Giuliani. These distracting characterizations are like something from Saturday Night Live.
But the message here hits home with several key moments. Just as it seems the hero of the day is Kelly, one character reminds her of her complicity. And an early romantic exchange between Pospisil and another producer named Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon) is also revealing of the cruel realities of the business world.
Ultimately, “Bombshell” is entertaining and contains enough of a hard edge to be about something relevant in today’s period of adjustment. The ouster of Ailes was a ground-breaking event and signified a step toward change. But, as this film indicates, there’s a lot of ground still left to cover.
A RottenTomatoes.com Tomatometer-approved critic, Jonathan W. Hickman is also an entertainment lawyer, college professor, novelist, and filmmaker. He’s a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, The Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Georgia Film Critics Association. For more information about Jonathan visit: FilmProductionLaw.com or DailyFIlmFix.com