Review: 'Bombshell' handles explosive material with care
Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie star in movie about Fox News and the ouster of Roger Ailes
A takedown of Fox News that also celebrates the courage of members of its staff, "Bombshell" is a well-acted snapshot of the beginnings of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements that is sometimes at odds with itself and shows that history doesn't always follow a tidy script.
There are moments where you can see director Jay Roach and writer Charles Randolph trying to make "The Big Short" version of Fox News and the ouster of Roger Ailes. "Bombshell" isn't quite that structure-shattering or whip-smart, but it effectively tells a story of how an unlikely group of women bonded together and helped reshape a narrative.
In a triumph of makeup contouring and lighting, Charlize Theron is physically transformed into Megyn Kelly, the Fox News anchor before her exit from the network.
It's the 2016 election season and she's in the thick of her war of words with Fox News' golden goose, Donald Trump. At the same time, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is bounced from her position at the network and comes forward with sexual harassment allegations against Fox head honcho Ailes (a grotesque John Lithgow, underneath several pounds of makeup).
Margot Robbie plays Kayla Pospisil — she's a composite in this non-fiction story — a young hire and "evangelical millennial" at the network who has long dreamed of joining the ranks of Fox blondes. Her dream comes with a price, however, which is detailed in a deeply unsettling scene where she has to show off her body to the lecherous Ailes. A more explicit encounter occurs off-camera.
Kelly, Carlson and Pospisil are far from aligned with one another — they're at different places in their careers and have different goals — but together they wind up overthrowing a titan and changing a culture.
"Bombshell" depicts this moment in history with a mix of humor and horror; characters freely address the camera and describe Fox as "a nostalgia machine for lost America," while the pain, power dynamics and lingering scars of sexual harassment are given an important pedestal.
The mixture makes for a sometimes odd ping-ponging of moods and styles. As such, "Bombshell" isn't always as explosive as it would like to be, but it definitely makes an impact.
Rated R: for sexual material and language throughout
Running time: 108 minutes