Starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Allison Janney, Mark Duplass, Connie Britton, Holland Taylor, Malcolm McDowell
First it was The Big Short, I Tonya, Vice and now Bombshell. Movies about the convergence of media and politics told in a way that breaks the fourth wall have found their place in the annual award season race. These films, adapted from one article or source, are edited in a way that’s snappy and urgent, giving the viewer dramatized scenes that are often presented as fact. They have done well in the award nominations, usually stopping short of wins. Director Jay Roach (Trumbo) follows the trail blazed by Vice creator Adam McKay, delivering a scathing dramatization on the downfall of Fox News mastermind Roger Ailes. Bombshell emulates the mantra put forth in the script for the news organization selecting news stories that “Terrify and Titillate”. An extraordinary ensemble cast inhabit the roles of high profile faces from the conservative network, brought to life by an award winning makeup artist.
A snowball effect began when longtime Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) is demoted to a dead zone time slot after she complained of verbal sexual harassment until she’s eventually terminated without cause. With one blonde on the decline, Megyn Kelly (Theron) couldn’t be more popular with her own primetime show, until going stiletto to tweet with then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump. Roger Ailes (Lithgow) built Fox News, but he doesn’t own it, media tycoon Robert Murdoch (McDowell) does. The dreaded “second floor” is where all on air decisions are made by Ailes, who reminds the young female staffers, “if you want to get ahead, you have to give a little…”. Kayla Pospisil (Robbie) is the latest ambitious blonde at the network, just naïve enough to think Ailes has her best interests at heart, until he makes it clear she must find a way to prove her loyalty.
It’s Lithgow who steals the show. His performance as Ailes is Jaba the Hut meets Churchill in corporate America and it makes him a real supporting actor possibility.
Screenwriter Charles Randolph also contributed to the Big Short script, both it and Vice are fragmented in a way that the storytelling often undercuts the emotion we should be feeling. Anger is what these types of political docudramas elicit most and Bombshell serves it in double doses while maintaining a fair and balanced approach. The Bombshell lead is arguable, Theron is being lauded as a best actress contender, but Megyn Kelly is only one piece of this story, often in the background. Kidman’s Carlson is the spark, getting the more obvious character arc. Robbie is being submitted as best supporting despite her character having equal screen time. The makeup and prosthetics are the only award worthy element, aiding the transformation of Kidman and Theron into their roles, but it’s Lithgow who steals the show. His performance as Ailes is Jaba the Hut meets Churchill in corporate America and it makes him a real supporting actor possibility.
While Bombshell is equal parts entertaining, engaging and informative, it ultimately feels incomplete. It doesn’t want to offend it’s audience on either side of the isle and ends up with very mixed messages. Perhaps choosing one lead might have corrected that emptiness or leaned further in on the conversation Megyn and Kayla have, where she asks the senior journalist why she didn’t use her power to stop the abuse happening to the new girls. With all the cameos, Bombshell grows perpetually more goofy. McKinnon gets a couple of good scenes playing a liberal lesbian working at Fox News. The divided narrative doesn’t allow her minor character to be fleshed out, but it’s one of the Emmy winners’ best big-screen roles yet. Theron recruited Oscar-winning makeup design artist Kazu Hiro (Darkest Hour) for this project, and he elevates his mastery to a new level.
Fragmented yet engaging, Bombshell boasts good performances in award worthy makeup.