There’s an irony of a proto-MeToo movement taking place in the halls of the fiercely conservative Fox News’ offices in 2016. Yet Jay Roach’s Bombshell subverts this irony. He provides context to the origins of the scandal while giving humanity to the women involved. The movie plays out as a darkly humorous exposé, with three women at the centre: Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), and the fictional Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie). The narrative widens the lens beyond Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) himself, incorporating everyday harassment and Trump’s appalling response to Kelly.
Kelly is the central figure of the film; Theron is an eerie embodiment of her, thanks to amazing prosthetics and make-up. Pospisil is fictional and, perhaps because she is a creation of the writers, the most sympathetic. In Bombshell’s most distressing scene, Robbie is exceptional. Her expression – the confusion, fear, and vulnerability – is remarkable, despite being a difficult watch. Lithgow establishes Ailes as the dangerous, perverted villain, lending a cartoonish side to this pathetic man, throwing doughnuts at people in rage, or stumbling into the newsroom to yell at the female anchors that he “needs to see [their] legs”.
The overwhelming detail is jarring at times. Bombshell is incredibly fast-paced, the camera constantly flitting between people, zooming in and out, while keeping an excellent hold on the audience’s attention.
It is also filled with familiar faces playing… familiar faces, like some kind of heightened SNL-esque parody (Kate Mackinnon’s cameo doesn’t help). The parallel is not without reason: the political setting of Fox News is a reminder that Kelly and Carlson are themselves problematic figures in a sensationalist fear-mongering institution. This is powerfully addressed in the last scene when Carlson tells the audience: I don’t care that you like me, only that you believe me.
There is one scene that completely undermines the movie’s narrative drive. At one point, the film places blame on Kelly for not coming forward earlier and indirectly allowing other women to be assaulted. It felt ridiculous, and genuinely put me off an otherwise well-made movie. While Bombshell does not escape these clichéd pitfalls, it is a compelling film well worth a watch.