Time: 109 Minutes
Age Rating: Offensive language & sexual references
Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly
Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson
Margot Robbie as Kayla Pospisil
John Lithgow as Roger Ailes
Connie Britton as Beth Ailes
Rob Delaney as Gil Norman
Mark Duplass as Douglas Brunt
Liv Hewson as Lily Balin
Allison Janney as Susan Estrich
Director: Jay Roach
When Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) slaps Fox News founder Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) with a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment, not a soul could predict what would happen next. Her decision leads to Fox News correspondent Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) coming forward with her own story, as well as multiple other women, inciting a movement that reverberates around the world.
I remember hearing about Bombshell for a while, it was about the sexual harassment in Fox News (specifically about Roger Ailes) and starred Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie in the lead roles. As trailers started being released however, I was starting to be a little concerned about it, especially how the movie looked like a comedy (the use of Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’ certainly didn’t give off the right vibe. Now a movie about this subject could work, taking on sexual harassment in a work environment such as Fox News. It’s hard to pull off, but if executed well, could result in a truly great and insightful movie. Bombshell is not that movie.
One of my worries was that Bombshell was going to be a comedy on the whole. Now there wasn’t as much comedy as I thought there would be, but I do wonder if that’s because what they intended as comedy didn’t exactly produce much laughs and I just didn’t pick up that they were jokes in the first place. The thing that immediately comes to mind to this movie is the fact that this is Fox News, and of course people aren’t so into the idea of a movie following people who work at Fox, which is understandable. The movie isn’t necessarily pro Fox News, but it doesn’t full on take on them either. All the shots that they take at Fox are used in jokes, so they felt rather toothless and weak. There’s plenty of deserved criticisms about some of the prominent people at the centre of this story, but they were still victims, and their story still needed to be told. When it comes to the sexual harassment scenes, it’s fittingly uncomfortable, but that’s not exactly an achievement considering that it should feel uncomfortable. To address the elephant in the room, Bombshell is written by the writer of The Big Short (Charles Randolph), and you really feel that. Now I liked The Big Short, but with this movie it really does feel like someone did a half baked attempt at that form of storytelling. There is a lot of explaining to the audience, and that didn’t turn out so well for this movie. This style could potentially work for a movie taking on Fox News on the whole, however for one with sexual harassment as the focus, it doesn’t fit at all. People have talked about how this movie should’ve been written and directed by a woman, given the results here, women behind both roles definitely would’ve resulted in a much better movie. On the whole, Bombshell a real drag to watch, and unfortunately it’s not just because of the difficult subject matter. Lack of entertainment aside, it moves a such a slow pace and not a lot happens in the movie, with the movie not even grabbing your attention all that much. After thinking about Bombshell for a while, I just came to a realisation. This movie is just a whole lot of talking about what happened, sprinkled occasionally with deliberate shocking and disturbing moments about sexual harassment. Most annoying of all, there’s no deeper dive or complexity to it all (not with the people or at Fox), it’s all very surface level and basically a recap of what we mostly already knew happened. Even as someone who didn’t a ton about the story, I didn’t come out of Bombshell knowing much more than before I watched it.
If there’s one reason to watch this movie, it is the performances. Charlize Theron is great here, managing to embody Megyn Kelly so believably, really great performance. A lot of the other acting is overplayed to some degree, but Theron feels grounded throughout. Nicole Kidman is not getting the awards attention that her co-leads are receiving, but she was quite good as Gretchen Carlson, who made the lawsuit on Roger Ailes. It actually made me wonder why Carlson wasn’t the lead character of the movie instead of Kelly. Margot Robbie plays a composite character, and I didn’t know what to think of that. Part of me got the impression that Robbie’s character might’ve been created because they wanted to have a main character who they could show directly harassed in a scene by Roger Ailes, but maybe I’m just reading too deep into it. Robbie generally acts well in her role, and she gets a couple great moments in the last act or so. John Lithgow plays Roger Ailes, and he played him uncomfortably well, really unpleasant and unsettling to watch when he’s on screen. At the same time, he scarily enough seems like a real human being, Lithgow did a great job on his part. There’s not much to say about the rest of the cast, they can be quite over the top and deliberately performed like a parody at times, but they’re fine enough.
I’m not too familiar with Jay Roach, I know he made the Austin Powers movies and I’ve seen his last movie Trumbo. Many people have been saying that Bombshell has been heavily inspired by the directing of Adam McKay’s movies, and I can sadly confirm this. From voiceovers, breaking the fourth wall, cameos of people you may know of, you get the drill. Bombshell solidified that no one should be making Adam McKay-like movies other than Adam McKay himself. Now I personally liked The Big Short and Vice quite a bit, if you didn’t like them though, I think that you’d really dislike Bombshell. The camerawork was also documentary-like, and with the office taking up most of the prominent locations in the movie, it made you feel like you’re in an episode of The Office. It really didn’t serve to make the movie better, it just made it distracting and obnoxious to watch. Every time it zoomed in on someone, it gets just a little more annoying, and there are a lot of zoom ins. The visual style is so bland and uninteresting, and the movie relies so much on its visual style, unfortunately there’s not many appealing aspects here. What’s worse is that the style is not even that consistent, for example you only get the fourth wall breaks a few times, making you wonder why they did it at all. With so much of the directing and storytelling choices, it makes you wonder why they didn’t just make a documentary. The only aspect on a technical level that I can really give praise to is the great makeup, from making Theron look like Megyn Kelly and Lithgow like Ailes.
Bombshell is a very mixed bag to say that least, and it’s a very hard movie to recommend. This topic is not pleasant to sit through (and it shouldn’t be), but it’s also more of a drag, and on top of that you don’t really learn that much from the movie (unless you’ve never heard of the story before) and doesn’t go deeper as it could’ve, also with some questionable writing and direction choices throughout. At the same time, the performances from Theron, Kidman, Robbie, and Lithgow are great, so maybe watch the movie if you really want to see their work here.