Bombshell - B+
Rated R, 108 minutes
The sharp, well-acted and timely dramedy "Bombshell" uncovers the story of the women that brought down Fox News CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment in 2016. Its approach, lighter in tone and less exhaustive than the recent Showtime miniseries "The Loudest Voice," doesn't always work when it veers into caricature, but it's still a pertinent view of a situation that helped propel the MeToo movement.
Female employees, led by high-profile anchors Gretchen Carlson (Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman) and Megyn Kelly (Oscar-winner Charlize Theron) at Fox News take on a toxic male culture, leading to the downfall of media mogul Roger Ailes (Emmy-winner John Lithgow, under a load of makeup) in 2016.
"Bombshell" is fast-paced, witty and occasionally preachy, and is directed by Jay Roach ("Meet the Parents") with a screenplay by Oscar-winner Charles Randolph, of "The Big Short." The film takes a similar approach as Randolph's previous film: energetic, quick edits infused with some humor along the way. Most of it works well, led by a trio of strong performances of Theron, in a truly transformative turn as Kelly, whose disclosures was the final nail in the coffin for Ailes; Kidman as Carlson, whose suit against Ailes started it all, and "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's" Robbie as Kayla, a composite character of many Fox staffers who suffered under Ailes' misconduct.
If "Bombshell" wins any awards, it will certainly be for Theron and Lithgow's heavy, yet realistic prosthetics; even without it both Theron and Lithgow, playing a slightly more sympathetic yet still nauseating corporate chief than in the Showtime vehicle, give strong turns here. Robbie is also effective as the fictional, young Fox staffer who is a victim to Ailes' harassment. Kidman's turn is solid but less effective as Carlson, who was the first to come forward; but one chief flaw with the script is that it limits Kidman's and Theron's interactions to a single, largely unspoken scene, meaning that the two heavy-hitting, Oscar-winning actress do not have anytime onscreen together, which hurts Kidman more than Theron.
Another primary flaw with "Bombshell" is that it tends to delve into caricature, and tends to overwhelm its audience by trotting out almost every single Fox reporter, including Neil Cavuto, Bret Bair, Jeanine Pirro, Sean Hannity and even Gerardo Rivera and a slew of others, not to mention other figures such as Rudy Giuliani (Richard Kind), Ailes' high-profile attorney Susan Estrich (Oscar-winner Alison Janney) and Fox founder Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell), a largely unnecessary, somewhat stunt casting move yet underscoring the toxic environment at Fox.
I didn't mind the occasional preachiness of "Bombshell" given its timeliness of harassment in the corporate workplace and the effectiveness of the MeToo movement, and of all its supporting characters, I most enjoyed the always charming Kate McKinnon as a closet lesbian and Democrat working at Fox. The conservatives will likely rail against the film for being anti-Fox News, but since Ailes was such a reviled, appalling public figure if there ever was one, it won't matter: the enjoyable and often fascinating "Bombshell" is a must-see for Theron and Lithgow's transformative turns.