Reel Reviews | Bombshell

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

The details of the fall of Fox News’ leader Roger Ailes is brought to life in Bombshell.

The conservative world of FOX News is controlled by Roger Ailes (John Lithgow).  Answering only to the Murdochs themselves, Ailes controls who is on what show, when and where.  If anyone wants to be anyone on-air talent, especially the women, they must see Ailes. Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) aspires to be a FOX star like Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) not just because it is her family’s favorite channel.  Full of ambition, Kayla unwittingly plunges into the muck and slime from which she may never shake free.  Soon enough, Kayla finds that she is not alone in predicament.

Written by Charles Randolph (The Big Short) and directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers series, Dinner for Schmucks), Bombshell is based on the real events that led to the dismissal of Roger Ailes in disgrace from employment with FOX News.  It stars John Lithgow, Nicole Kidman, Kate McKinnon, Allison Janney, Malcolm McDowell, Connie Britton, and a totally unrecognizable Charlize Theron.  Randolph, who co-wrote The Big Short with Adam McKay, attempts to recreate the feel of Short with this film using the same fourth-wall breaks and biting, satiric narration.

Randolph uses an interesting device for the development of the story in the form of Robbie’s Kayla character.  While most of the other actors in the movie portray actual FOX personalities, Kayla is totally fictional.  But Kayla is the central character to the telling of the story.  The spark for the fire so to speak.  It is through her experience that the audience gets the opportunity to witness the depravity of Roger Ailes. 

There is camouflage though.  Despite witnessing the action of Ailes, the audience is almost led to believe that his actions are insular, a one-time incident where Ailes crossed a line.  As the story unfolds, it becomes clear how pervasive and deeply entrenched in the culture his behavior has been.

While Kayla is a made-up person, Bombshell is full of actors portraying real FOX anchors and hosts.  Half the fun of the movie is seeing the actors and the roles they are portraying.  Besides Kidman and Theron, Malcolm McDowell plays Rupert Murdoch.  Richard Kind plays Rudy Giuliani.  Michael Buie plays Bret Baier, Kevin Dorff is Bill O’Reilly (the other perpetrator at FOX).  Greta Van Susteren, Chris Wallace, Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, Geraldo Rivera and more.  Many of them look like real characters without any assistance.  (Thankfully, Roach subtitles their appearances just in case you don’t recognize them.)  However, Lithgow and Theron undergo extensive prosthetic changes to transform them into their characters.  Both of them are barely recognizable as they slip into their personas.

In mimicking, The Big Short, Randolph proves one point.  He needs McKay.  Where Short was fast-paced, educational and entertaining, Bombshell is horrifyingly uneven in its tone.  It attempts to be humorous, even though the material does not lend itself to anything funny.  It is smart but it is emotionless on a topic that is full of emotion.

All the principal actors, Lithgow, Robbie, Kidman, and Theron, are very good in their performances and Kate McKinnon is great as Kayla’s only friend, a closeted lesbian in the ultra-conservative, inescapable world of Fox News.  But not even their collective work can overcome a script that lacks punch and focus.   

Rated R for sexual material and language throughout, Bombshell is a disappointing mess.  The story is convoluted and lacks soul and emotion.  It is a shame that such an interesting and compelling story gets such a poor treatment.

Grade:  C-