Fox News has been the dominant force in conservative media and highest-rated cable news channel for seventeen years. Its success is credited to former CEO Roger Ailes, who was a kingmaker in Republican politics for decades. Bombshell is the story of his epic downfall from sexual harassment allegations in 2016. A lawsuit from a terminated former anchor, Gretchen Carlson, opened the floodgates to a shocking culture of rampant sexism. Multiple women testified against the lascivious Ailes. Bombshell is seen from three of their viewpoints. The film is spectacularly acted, riveting at times, but pulls punches when it could have landed knockout blows.
Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), the popular host of her own prime time Fox News show, questions candidate Donald Trump about past misogynistic comments during the republican presidential debate in August 2015. Bombshell picks up in the aftermath with Trump attacking Kelly in interviews and social media. Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), a Trump confidant and supporter, embraced the ratings surge, but chastised Kelly. He saw no issue with Trump's behavior. Ailes mandated female Fox personalities wear form fitting dresses. Then made the anchor desks clear so viewers could see their legs.
Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) lost her position on the Fox News morning show. She was relegated to an afternoon time slot after constant sexualized comments from her male co-hosts. The young, beautiful, and eager Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), worked for Carlson, but decided to take a promotion. Pospisil became a staffer for Bill O' Reilly, Fox News biggest star. She's warned by a new co-worker (Kate McKinnon) about his behavior.
When Gretchen Carlson is fired from Fox News. She sues Roger Ailes personally, claiming a decade of sexual harassment from him and the network. Her high profile accusations raises alarms from Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell) and his sons, the owners of News Corp., Fox's parent company. They decide to hire an outside legal counsel to investigate Carlson's claims. Meanwhile, Kayla Pospisil has had her own terrifying interactions with Ailes. As the noose tightens around Ailes, he rallies powerful allies to his defense. Megyn Kelly is forced to make a critical decision. Support the man who made her a star, or tell the truth about her own experiences.
Bombshell is written by Charles Randolph, who won the adapted screenplay Oscar for the The Big Short. Bombshell is stylistically like that film. The characters break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience. Various images pop up on screen to show Trump's texts, headlines, and other networks coverage of the lawsuit. This gives Bombshell a sensational, pop culture look and feel. It may have worked for the banking crisis of The Big Short, but detracts from the seriousness of the subject matter here. Gripping, powerfully dramatic scenes, are followed by near lighthearted visual media. Director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, The Campaign) sabotages the severity of Bombshell with this artistic take. Ailes' behavior, and the crushing impact it had on his victims is captivating enough. There wasn't a need for film gimmickry.
The ensemble cast is excellent. Their performances aided by incredible work from the film's hair and make-up department. Charlize Theron, a heavyweight contender for Best Actress, looks and sounds EXACTLY like Megyn Kelly. John Lithgow, in a fat suit and prosthetics, is almost unrecognizable as Roger Ailes. His imperious tone and lewdness are absolutely enthralling. Margot Robbie, who's beauty is highlighted as a prime target for Ailes, shows tremendous range. Her enthusiasm and spirit becomes crushed over the course of film.
Bombshell takes dramatic license, but does a great job laying out the facts. The Kayla Pospisil character is a fictional combination of women who were preyed on by Aisles in their youth. Bombshell shows their faces and recounts their stories in an aside. He was methodical in his grooming. Aisles was a serial offender who controlled every system of reprisal. The women saw how he destroyed his enemies. The big lesson Bombshell teaches is courage. A powerful scene has Megyn Kelly confronted for doing nothing. If someone of her stature sits on the sidelines, what can a secretary or intern do?
There's a lot to like in Bombshell. The performances are sublime; the message clear. But the whimsical elements were not needed. Bombshell lets News Corp. and the Murdoch family off the hook. Roger Ailes was not operating in a vacuum. Bombshell is produced by Bron Creative, Denver + Delilah Productions, and Annapurna Pictures with distribution from Lionsgate.