Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie in Bombshell (Photo: Lionsgate)
★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Jay Roach
STARS Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman
(For a look at The 10 Best & 10 Worst Films of 2019, go here.)
Bombshell is the latest “preaching to the choir” movie to hit multiplexes, albeit one with a twist.
Directed by Jay Roach (whose underappreciated Trumbo earned my vote as the best film of 2015) and scripted by Oscar winner Charles Randolph (The Big Short), Bombshell takes a peek at the 2016 FOX News scandal, when the odious CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow in fat suit and caked-on makeup) was accused of sexual harassment by various women in his employment. The picture chooses as its primary players two real FOX journalists: Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), at the time also having to deal with vicious and misogynistic attacks by presidential candidate Donald Trump, and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), one of the first to file a lawsuit against Ailes. It also throws one fictional composite, a producer named Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), into the mix.
Naturally, this is the sort of movie that conservatives will hate sight unseen, particularly those OK with sexual harassment, Donald Trump, and FOX News (all branches of the same rotted tree). Progressives will have a trickier path to navigate. It goes beyond the fact that the film doesn’t dive especially deep into gender politics, or that its fictional character is a more well-rounded and interesting person than those based on real-life figures (all three actresses are fine, but Robbie is particularly excellent). It’s absolutely essential that Ailes be taken down, but while we can cheer their achievements as symbols of women, we cannot cheer the actual Megyn Kelly or Gretchen Carlson. These were two people perfectly at ease with the fake news, fearmongering tactics, and hatred of “the other” perpetrated by this three-ring circus of a media center. In the grand scheme, they were villains more than victims, and it’s only through the very narrow prism of this entertaining if flawed film that they can be championed for the right reasons.