Film Review: Bombshell
Director: Jay Roach
Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Mark Duplass, Rob Delaney, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney, Alanna Ubach, Mark Moses.
Running Time: 108
Australian Distributor: Studio Canal
The odious working conditions for female on-air talent at Fox News and the first high-profile sparks of resistance – which led to the ousting of Fox chief and network creator Roger Ailes and some of the first stirrings of the #MeToo movement – is the subject of Bombshell.
The film offers a sense of the iron-fisted will of Ailes, who insisted on the network’s standardized appearance for all female anchors to be attractive blondes clothed in sheath dresses and bared legs. The network czar had two bits of advice for wannabe female stars: “To get ahead, you have to give a little head,” and, “If you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys.”
From the moment Bombshell opens with a voiceover by Megyn Kelly, it’s clear that Charlize Theron has nailed the distinctive smoky voice of the character she’s playing. Once the character appears onscreen, the likeness becomes even more undeniable: Theron achieves a note-perfect replication of Kelly’s visual appearance as well. Kelly’s personal beliefs, however, are downplayed but one can understand how not to make a heroine out of a somewhat disliked character.
There are two other women at the heart of the story. Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) is really the first anchor to lower the boom on Ailes (played with loathsome sexism and ample padding by John Lithgow) after getting fired for being too difficult. It is her individual lawsuit against Ailes that exposed Ailes’ sexist conduct and led to his downfall. Margot Robbie plays a naive yet ambitious, fictional character (Kayla), who we observe being sexually humiliated by Ailes.
Ailes sees himself as a valuable asset to Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News and other conservative news outlets worldwide. At the same time, Ailes is a tough boss when it comes to what Fox News puts on the air. If the network makes a mistake with something or is not sending out the message Ailes wants, he will express his displeasure with brutal honesty.
Then there’s his belief that cable news is a visual medium and that the women on Fox News must look great for the viewer. In the film’s most unsettling depiction of sexual harassment, Ailes asks Kayla during a private meeting to pull up the bottom of her dress to expose much of her thighs, as a test to see how willing she is to show some skin on camera.
Overall, the cast performances are very good. Thanks to great work by the costume and make-up team, as well as the actresses’ performances, you really don’t see the faces of Theron and Kidman. You see the faces of Kelly and Carlson. Then there’s John Lithgow as Roger Ailes. Even though you can tell it’s John Lithgow in make-up that transforms him into an obese old man, his performance as a prideful but also bitter man definitely sticks.
The film manages to keep the story engaging and do so without forcing politics down our throats. It simply presents the Fox News workplace culture as many people understand it.
What really keeps this film afloat is its remarkable acting by all of the leads as well as some of the supporting cast, as well as its good direction and sleek cinematography.
Bombshell is a terrific showcase for Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie’s acting abilities, in particular, and is great in its technical efforts.
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