2.5 out of 5 stars.
“Bombshell,” one of the first big movies to be based on some of the events that spurred the Me Too movement, is simultaneously shocking, and shockingly tame. Directed by Jay Roach, the film revolves around the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News, in which several women exposed CEO Roger Ailes, prompting his resignation from the network in 2016.
The action is seen primarily from the perspective of three individuals: journalist Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), who is thrust into the spotlight for her aggressive questioning of Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign; anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), who is demoted and eventually let go from the network by Ailes for refusing his advances; and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a young production assistant who Ailes sets his sights on as she seeks to advance her career. We see how they each deal with the abuse they face, both verbal and physical, and it’s harrowing thanks to the solid performances each actress delivers. Theron is nearly unrecognizable as Kelly, outwardly tough but conflicted about how to deal with the issue of both Ailes and Trump behind the scenes. Robbie is particularly impressive as Kayla, making the transition from eager yet naïve Fox News devotee to a woman who is both afraid and ashamed of the situation she finds herself in. Kidman gets less screen time than the other two leads, but she still delivers a fearless performance, and Kate McKinnon has a memorable supporting role as Jess, a production assistant on Bill O’Reilly’s show who befriends Kayla, but who discourages her from discussing any workplace harassment or from being herself. John Lithgow is appropriately disgusting as the blustery Ailes. There is a large variety of familiar faces playing a large variety of familiar Fox News faces, but the problematic nature of Fox News itself is largely glossed over, only referenced in a few lines about offending liberals that are played for laughs.
“Bombshell” contains several scenes that are difficult to watch, whether it’s Carlson laughing off derogatory comments from her coworkers, or Kayla experiencing a more than uncomfortable interview with Ailes that she can’t get herself out of. But as impactful as these scenes are on their own, the entire film as a piece really only scratches the surface of the issue. Like any film based on fact, there are a lot of inaccuracies, but the mission of this film seems to be aimed more toward sensationalism than really digging into the impact these events have on these women. The finale feels more tired than triumphant, although that may be the point. Despite the Me Too movement, which really ramped up after the events of this film, workplace harassment is an ongoing issue that isn’t going away until the men in power are no longer rewarded for their misdeeds—and the women facing abuse are no longer made to feel like they should be afraid to speak up.
Runtime: 108 minutes. Rated R.