The Reel Review
Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie star in this dramatization about the explosive sex scandal that brought down Fox News chairman Roger Ailes in 2016.
Set in the 2015-2016 timeframe, the screenplay from Oscar-winner Charles Randolph (The Big Short) starts with Fox anchor Megyn Kelly weathering tasteless personal attacks by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump just as Ailes is firing host Gretchen Carlson, who then launches her sexual harassment lawsuit against him. Theron and Kidman are both solid – Theron, in particular, clad in facial prosthetics, impressively nails both Kelly’s look and to a lesser degree, her distinctive, deep voice. (At first her cadence is distracting but it grows on you over time.) It is Robbie, however, who most deftly illustrates the crux of the story – the personal ickyness of inappropriate sexual advances in the workplace. A heavily padded John Lithgow is stellar as the lecherous, paranoid Ailes.
Director Jay Roach (Game Change) keeps the story well-paced and impactful, even more so during the scenes where Kate McKinnon, as a closeted lesbian, and even more closeted, politically liberal show producer, hilariously describes the TV network’s effective “frighten, titillate, frighten, titillate” mantra for drawing in conservative viewers. (Somewhere inside there is a way more in-depth movie waiting to be told.)
Where the film falls a bit short is in its distracting revolving door display of Fox News on-air personalities. Some (Rudy Bakhtiar, Jeanine Pirro, Bill O’Reilly) effectively illustrate the network’s toxic work environment, but many (Sean Hannity, Geraldo Rivera, and Rudy Giuliani) feel like cringeworthy cameos that, while superficially fun, really only distract from what otherwise is a very clever, biting and impactful story.
• Makeup artist Kazu Hiro, who won his first Oscar for his amazing transformation of Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in 2017’s Darkest Hour, used nose, eyelid, jaw and chin prosthetics to transform Charlize Theron into Megyn Kelly. He used nose prosthetics on Kidman and Lithgow, whom he also put in a padded fat suit.
• Margot Robbie’s character is the only main character in Bombshell not based on a real person, but rather, a composite of several individuals to streamline the storytelling.