Bombshell is the story of the take down of Roger Ailes the head of Fox News. It is told from the perspective of the women who work at Fox News who speak up against him, but it ends up being Roger’s story. It’s an okay movie with some great performances and some worthy moments, but not much more.
The films plot is a grab bag of headlines. It begins with Megyn Kelly’s famous feud with Donald Trump during the 2016 election. It goes into detail about Kelly’s experience with Trump. Then it shifts to Gretchen Carlson’s point of view as she prepares a lawsuit against Roger Ailes after she is fired from the station. It also jumps to the perspective of Kayla, a young woman working at the station with big ambitions. Kayla’s character is the most problematic from a narrative standpoint. She is a composite of several real women, and her story feels superfluous and unfulfilled in the movie.
The women playing these parts are all excellent. Charlize Theron does a great job mimicking Megyn Kelly. She is made up to look just like her and her voice work and appearance is kind of eerie at times. Nicole Kidman is playing Gretchen Carlson and is likewise made up to look just like her real life counterpart. It’s a relief to see Margot Robbie on screen because she at least looks something like herself. Her character isn’t real, so she is allowed to wear her actual face in this movie. She is the strongest of all three. Her performance is the most emotionally resonant and deeply written.
The actresses are great, but the roles they’re playing aren’t. Aside from her duel with Trump, Kelly’s part is underwritten. We get some interesting discussion and debate about her feelings for Roger. He harassed her in the past, but gave her everything. She feels indebted to him, and doesn’t want to report his behavior. It’s an interesting subject, but it isn’t fully explored. Carlson is shown getting fired and starting her lawsuit and then she pretty much disappears from the movie. Why did she file her suit? Why didn’t she report him sooner? We don’t know. The movie asks these questions, but never bothers to answer them. Her side of things could have been fascinating, but it is never explored. Finally, there’s Kayla. She is beautiful and ambitious. She meets with Roger in order to advance her career. He harasses and assaults her. She plays along. She is traumatized by this, but then her story peters out. We never see her assault. We never see if she gets her own show the way she wants. She never speaks up against Roger. So much of the narrative hinges on the tension of whether or not women will come forward against Roger. But this tension is abandoned and mishandled. One of the main characters is never shown coming forward. Why experience her trauma if there isn’t going to be a resolution for the character?
The real main character here is Ailes. Roger Ailes is played by John Lithgow under a hundred pounds of prosthetics. He is fantastic. His performance is amazing. He is scary and repulsive at times, and then he’s charming and jovial. He is disgusting yet sympathetic. His wife is played by Connie Britton. She is by his side throughout all of it. She supports him unconditionally. Her role is the most fascinating and compelling part of the film. How does a wife support her husband in the face of a growing tidal wave of evidence against him. She generate so much empathy with the smallest moments. The problem with the movie is that it begins as a victims story and becomes the story of Ailes fall. He is the most well rounded and fully developed character in the film. The movie presents itself as a female empowerment taking down the system movie, but is all about the man’s demise. It’s just faulty and wrong story telling.
The performances are good. The movie is easy to watch (which might be a criticism considering the subject matter). The storytelling is a muddle. Is it worth watching? John Lithgow is always worth watching. Margot Robbie is heartbreaking. It’s not good filmmaking or storytelling though. You can probably skip it. It’s half a cup of tea for me. – B-