In such a hyper-partisan society, “Bombshell” is a movie that will be seen as absolute trash by one half of the political spectrum and an enjoyable — albeit slightly disappointing — examination of the manifestation of right-wing toxicity by the other half of the political spectrum.
Opening in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign, Megyn Kelly — in a chameleon-like performance by Charlize Theron — is poised to take the first step in becoming a mainstream media darling by confronting then presidential candidate Donald Trump about his misogynistic treatment of women. We’re given a stylized view behind the cameras of Fox News, where many stand against Kelly — as the network has already hitched its wagon to Trump and plans to follow behind him for even more power.
Kelly is only one of three protagonists in this story. Nicole Kidman plays former “Fox and Friends” host Gretchen Carlson, who is fired by repeated sexual harasser and network mogul Roger Ailes. Carlson tried to use “Fox and Friends” to publish more stories important to women. This leads her to file a lawsuit against Ailes and the network.
Margot Robbie plays the third protagonist, an up-and-coming producer willing to do whatever she can in order to make it at Fox News. It’s through her eyes that we see just how sleezy Ailes can be, as he forces Robbie’s Kayla Pospisil — an amalgamation of several real-life individuals — to sleep with him in order to climb up the network ladder.
As much as many would like to see “Bombshell” as vindication of everything they’ve known about the power of Fox News and its pernicious effects upon the United States and the Republican party, it stops short of that. Instead, it feels more like a hyper-stylized — near comedic, at times — look at how disgusting Ailes was as a person and the lengths he was willing to go in order to satisfy his own passions of the flesh. John Lithgow’s performance as the trashy network executive is so on-point that it’s scary, and he makes it so easy to hate Ailes on screen.
Ailes’ fall from grace and power has been well-chronicled in various primetime network television specials, a Showtime documentary and dozens upon dozens of think pieces, columns and over-written blog posts masquerading as quality journalism in the 21st century. The story is well-known, and “Bombshell” falls short of offering anything new that hasn’t been covered before. In that instance — especially with its stylized take on the entire drama — “Bombshell” feels slightly disappointing — not because it doesn’t do a good job of telling the story — but because it simply doesn’t show enough that hasn’t already been chronicled somewhere else.
Director Jay Roach’s film represents the first real Hollywood examination of the climate of sexual harassment in a post-#MeToo world, but so much of it rings hollow. Parts of the film come off more like satire of real life events than a true clinical examination of sexual harassment or of the real harm Fox News and its revolving door of pundits has inflicted upon America for the last 30 years.
There’s no way of knowing how much of “Bombshell” is the actual truth, and how much of it has been invented whole cloth, or simply exaggerated in order to play into the movie’s bi-polar tone — as neither Carlson nor Kelly consulted on the script. There is enough grounded content to lend credence to much of what “Bombshell” offers the viewer, but everyone will still leave the theater wondering what really happened.