In Brief: A biopic that says this is what happened to former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. It’s a heavy subject but so very, very well done and quite funny in spots.
Bombshell is Hollywood’s version of what went on at Fox News during the reign of its chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. Or to put it another way, what ails Ailes makes for excellent cinema.
His world came tumbling down when a former host and news anchor, Gretchen Carlson filed suit claiming Ailes was a total lech. It turns out to be true. The suit — and accusations of others — forced Ailes to step down. The network eventually settled with Carlson for $20 million.
Carlson’s issue is at the center of Bombshell but the focus is another former anchor Megyn Kelly. You may remember her for being forced at at NBC for a blackface comment at Halloween last year.
How she ends up as plot center is something I’ll leave for the movie to explain.
Charlize Theron stars as Kelly and Nicole Kidman plays Carlson. The third member of the trio of actresses is Margot Robbie who does Kayla Pospisil, a young woman who eats, breathes and sleeps Fox News until she is sexually harassed by Ailes.
The three women and Kate McKinnon — who plays a gay lady at the supposedly, notoriously homophobic network — are very good. In a movie packed with quick scenes, the most fun comes from a quick scene where all three end up in the same elevator.
It seems a bit odd to say a movie about sexual harassment, and maybe even sexual assault is “fun” but director Jay Roach and writer Charles Randolph manage to pack plenty of gallows humor in all that drama. People who’ve spent time in newsrooms or worked in the profession can relate. The business of journalism is very serious but at the same time, those working in the profession are a fairly warped lot so the humor fits.
Kidman and Robbie have an easier time making you believe they’re the real women they play than Theron. At first she doesn’t quite pull off the effervescent Kelly. But Kelly has a much higher real-life profile and it’s harder to buy her in the part.
That said, once Theron gets rolling you can look past the flaw.
Theron and Robbie grabbed Golden Globe nominations for their performances. Robbie for supporting work and Theron as best actress in a musical or comedy. Kidman is ignored but is as good as her two costars. However, as good as all three are, it is John Lithgow — who plays Ailes — who gives the film’s best performance.
He got ignored. Hopefully, the Academy Awards will correct the oversight and slight.
Face padded in Ailes’ fabled jowls, Lithgow is nothing short of brilliant. He plays Ailes as angry, isolated and shallow. Ailes is the architect of the most popular television news channel in history. He’s guided some of the best in the business into important careers and made some of them household names. Obviously, he can do no wrong and Lithgow plays him as a man convinced that he’s done nothing wrong.
After all, that’s how men are supposed to behave, right?
Roach and Randolph both excel at this kind of film. Roach is best known for his work on the first two Austin Powers movies. However, when required to dig deeper, Roach is very good and proved that with the most excellent expose on the life of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in 2015.
Randolph has the same kind of skills. He wrote the acclaimed financial drama/comedy, The Big Short.
Combined they have put together a film that not only gives you an idea of how things worked behind the scenes at Fox News not too many years ago, but that highlights the skills of some very good actresses and actors.
One last positive. The movie isn’t political in terms of reporting from the right or reporting with a slant to the left. It is more about the courage it took for Carlson and the others to take on Ailes. He ruled the network with an iron fist and at the bat of an eye could — as he did with Carlson — end a career.
The film’s focus is sexism. It’s a different kind of politics. Roach’s movie shows just how hard it had to be, and has to be, for women in television news. What a woman looks like is often far more critical than talent.
It ought not be that way but that’s current reality.
Director: Jay Roach
Stars: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Allison Janney, Malcolm McDowell, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton
Rated R for language and mature themes. An interesting exploration of sexism at Fox News that features some of the year’s best performances. What ails Ailes is good cinema. Give it a 5 on the Friday Flicks with Gary o to 5 scale.
Click here for theaters and show times.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.