In July of 2016 the news world was shocked by the announcement of allegations against Roger Ailes, a major figure in the rise of conservative new channel Fox News. Several women, including anchors Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, came forward and accused him of sexual harassment and eliciting unwanted sexual activity eventually leading to Ailes’ departure from the network. Now three years later this story has become the subject of a feature length film which is fitting seeing as it’s one of the first mainstream offerings to tackle sexual harassment since the dawn of the #MeToo movement. I’ve long been interested in seeing how this film was going to play out. Several big names, including Nicole Kidman as Carlson and Charlize Theron as Kelly as well as Margot Robbie as a fictional character named Kayla, were involved with the film and before its wide release it earned Globe nominations for Theron and Robbie promising some powerhouse performances as it took on a delicate subject. Because it revolves around Fox News and a hot topic issue in modern society there was also a lot of room for pandering and even the threat of a political agenda meaning there were risks involved with handling this narrative. After finally being able to see the movie myself I’m ready to give my take. How well does “Bombshell” handle its sensational true story? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Bombshell”.
“Bombshell” is an imperfect movie, but it has a lot of strengths worth noting especially in its Golden Globe nominated performances. Personally, I think all three of the leading ladies deserved to get some award season credit for their roles. Charlize Theron is definitely the driving force of the film not only looking the part of Megyn Kelly but also doing a swell job capturing her spunk and attitude as both a news reporter and a conservative. Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson doesn’t get near as much screen time but she’s still convincing in the role and provides some of the best one liners of the movie especially when it comes to the idea of women speaking out. Meanwhile Margot Robbie plays an original character named Kayla who is an up-and-coming Fox reporter who finds out the hard way the lengths women have to go to please Fox CEO Roger Ailes to get a leg up. All three performances are worthy of praise as they are definitely the glue that holds a slightly clunky film together and drive home the core themes of the narrative. As I’ll touch on later, they also do well to give life and relatability so characters who are frankly underdeveloped in the larger picture. In addition, John Lithgow is very good in the part of Roger Ailes portraying a real-life villain of a man who is paranoid yet overly confident and abuses his power. The way Lithgow makes Ailes’ requests for sexual favors feel so hidden, so genuine and so devoid of guilt is actually pretty scary. Like I said the performances are the highlight of this movie and help elevate “Bombshell” to a higher level.
I appreciated too how well the film worked to portray how power and sexism have played a role in building a culture against women even in the powerful world of Fox News. Fox is famously conservative and there are a lot of stereotypes associated with how right-wing commentators and voters view the role of women in society. While this film doesn’t completely stray from politics (more on that issue later) it does bring to light how even the most powerful men can fall if women are empowered to speak up and to make themselves heard. Both Carlson and Kelly in real life and in the movie faced backlash for their statements against Ailes and other powerful men on Fox News but they persisted, showing the world that no matter what side of the ladder you’re on being submissive to an abusive power is not okay. “Bombshell” does a respectful and tasteful job at portraying not only the extremes of the sexism within Fox News and how people compromised in order to avoid the consequences of the truth, but often treats its subjects like normal people in spite of how viewers have seen these individuals in the public eye outside of the theater. While I would have appreciated a bit more development of who these women were outside the walls of Fox, it’s still worth noting that “Bombshell” successfully uses these people as a way of saying that no person, whether you agree with them or not, deserves this kind of treatment. It’s inspiring to see these women step up and go after a man that wronged them, one that threatened their careers if they didn’t literally bow down to him, so to speak. On that front I think “Bombshell” is an important and timely movie, but it does get bogged down by a few things that spoiled the experience a bit for me.
For starters this film very clearly takes advantage of its premise to throw a few jabs at Donald Trump and his presidency. I know it’s an important aspect of the narrative, especially with Megyn Kelly, but regardless of my personal opinions on Trump “Bombshell” does tend to get a little bogged down in its attempt to vilify the president, sometimes righteously and other times in more pandering ways. It is important to understand and see how Trump was perceived to be driving the anti-woman agenda and it does create a great snapshot of how we’ve gotten from 2016 to our culture today with Trump being seen as an instigator even before his presidency, but it does feel like this movie goes out of its way to take its vilification of Trump to the next level forgetting at times that Roger Ailes is the real villain of this story. It was important to touch on the Trump debates and how they effected Megyn Kelly and potentially drove her to become a part of the attacks on Ailes but the rest of the president’s involvement in the story could have been much better handled with more subtlety as “Bombshell” often gets lost in saying something about the president than it does saying something about its subjects and their unified battle against harassment.
With that said, there’s also an ever present lack of depth in this movie. “Bombshell” focuses on a worthy story and does well to comment on women uprising against oppressive powers but it never goes really much deeper than the surface level of its story. That is except for one moment between Aisles and Margo Robbie’s Kayla which serves as the most uncomfortable scene in the film and takes things to a level that I kind of expected the whole movie to explore actually. Instead “Bombshell” feels fine focusing on the basics of the story, only occasionally taking the time to explore these women as people outside the walls of Fox News. The most we really learn about who these women are other than members of the Fox staff or celebrities in the public eye is that they exercise and have families they care about. Otherwise we really don’t know them as people. We know them as victims and it’s hard to relate to someone on a personal level if you only know part of their story. What “Bombshell” provides is an effective take on its real life story but nothing so special or dramatic that it leaves a lasting impression beyond a few harsh revelations.
“Bombshell” for me was a mixed bag, but it’s more positive than negative. The performances are what you really need to experience in this film because Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie do a lot with very little making you care about women that, in the end, you really know very little about other than their personal struggles as employees of Fox News even after the credits role. I very much appreciate what this movie does in terms of showing how women can, and should, stand up against a seemingly untouchable power if they feel violated. Because it focuses on Fox News personnel, who many on the left side of politics often perceive as enemies to feminism and female empowerment, it makes a powerful statement that this issue is not a political one but one of human dignity which is an important message especially for today’s climate. Sadly, there are a few elements that bog the film down with political commentary and fail to take the premise to a deeper level to further the conversation. “Bombshell” does plenty right to bring deserved attention to its real life story, but in the end I found myself wishing it did just a little bit more.