If you’re into the world of TV news and current events, then “Bombshell” has to be one of your most highly anticipated movies of 2019. It’s also one of the fastest turnarounds for a narrative film “based on a true story”.
Yes, the sexual harassment case involving FOX News chief Roger Ailes was pre-Harvey Weinstein/ #MeToo movement. But still, it was only three years ago! Oscar-winning “Big Short” co-screenwriter Charles Randolph got right to work combining the scandalous headlines and high-profile events into the “Bombshell” script.
Jay Roach is no stranger to political movies. He previously directed HBO’s “Recount”, “Game Change”, “All the Way” and the Will Ferrell comedy, “The Campaign”. The first act of “Bombshell” covers similar territory: the inner-workings of FOX News, specifically anchor Megyn Kelly’s combative dealings with then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump. Their relationship provided Kelly with the most attention of her career (to that point).
Charlize Theron convincingly captures Kelly’s look (through terrific hair & makeup) and voice (there are a couple of spot-on moments). She also has the toughest job of the large “Bombshell” ensemble. Theron is playing someone who’s constantly conflicted. And Kelly is faced with even more challenges when the Ailes scandal comes to light. By the end of the film you genuinely feel sympathy for Megyn Kelly. It’s a portrayal that’s going to surprise many – maybe even Kelly herself.
Margot Robbie pulled-off the same trick in 2017’s “I, Tonya” – making a supposed “villain” into a likeable character. In “Bombshell” Robbie plays Kayla, a fictional representation of an ambitious, young reporter looking to become a Fox News star. Kayla quickly forms a friendship with co-worker Jess. Kate McKinnon shows she’s got a future in quiet, dramatic roles to go along with her sharp, comedic skills.
And then there’s Gretchen Carlson. The former Miss America turned “Fox & Friends” co-host was the first to publicly accuse Ailes of sexual harassment. Nicole Kidman has the least flashy role of the three core female protagonists. John Lithgow could receive his first Oscar nomination in 36 years for his gritty work as Ailes.
If you haven’t gotten the news by now, “Bombshell” is a performance-driven drama. The big names are the big draw. Roach’s attention to detail with authentic FOX News sets and archived TV clips is strong. However, the decision to cast a couple dozen actors as familiar Fox on-air anchors & reporters has its drawbacks. There won’t be a movie theater audience anywhere that doesn’t laugh out loud when the guy who plays Geraldo Rivera pops-up in the third act.
And Randolph’s screenplay doesn’t deliver the punch that it could have. It’s the stars who make the material. The narrative, though based on explosive events, is pretty basic. Roach uses random narration and fourth-wall techniques, which aren’t as bothersome as you might think. And the film does stay apolitical. This is not a 100% attack on Conservatives/Republicans or a hatchet job of FOX News.
Randolph gives fair and balanced treatment to the plights of the three women. I just wish all the storylines were weaved together more effectively, as was the case with “The Big Short”.
Instead, “Bombshell” falls a little short.