Bombshell is arguably the first #MeToo film, telling the fact-based story of how during the 2016 US election campaign, three women at Fox News brought down the station’s founder Roger Ailes over sexual harassment allegations. It’s a pretty solid piece of work, featuring strong central performances, a compelling screenplay (by Charles Randolph), and direction from Jay Roach that takes it’s tonal cue from the likes of The Big Short.
In the film, the three women responsible for Ailes’s demise are anchors Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), and ambitious producer Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie). The latter is a fictional composite character based on the many women who submitted to Ailes’s humiliating whims to advance their careers.
Kidman, Robbie, and Theron are all brilliant, but Theron in particular is quite astonishing. Via prosthetics and voice-coaching, she nails Kelly in a quite unnerving way. Some have taken issue with her being portrayed sympathetically (given some of her on-air clangers, including her insistence that Santa Claus has to be white), but many of those elements are included here. Indeed, this is a warts and all depiction of all three characters. Motivations are not always noble, and are at times coloured by selfish ambition or self-preservation. The issue of women at Fox News who are either silent, complicit, or in denial is another uncomfortable question that isn’t dodged.
In the supporting cast, Ailes is brilliantly played by John Lithgow, and Malcolm McDowell turns up as Aile’s boss, Rupert Murdoch (Ailes and Murdoch’s disagreement over Trump is a key factor in the background of the story). Other notable cast members include Allison Janney, Connie Britton, and a somewhat underused Kate McKinnon; whose character’s closet support for Hilary Clinton is considered a far more dangerous secret for a Fox News employee than the fact that she is a lesbian.
If I had to pick nits, I’d say the fourth-wall breaking to explain the inner workings of Fox News doesn’t quite work as well as it did in The Big Short, and there are a few factual liberties taken which will irritate some (I’m not entirely comfortable with Rupert Murdoch being portrayed as heroically as he is here), but overall Bombshell is a very strong film. The most powerful scene – involving a phone call between Pospisil and Kelly – really does drive home the appalling psychological damage caused by sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse of power from media moguls. It will certainly stay with you afterwards.
UK Certificate: 15
US Certificate: R
Content warnings: Strong language, sexual references.