“Bombshell” Movie Review

     It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to convince an audience Megyn Kelly is playing herself in director Jay Roach’s “Bombshell”, a film dramatization chronicling the sexual harassment claims brought against former Fox News chief Roger Ailes in 2016.  But in reality, the talented makeup and hairstyling artists behind the film have transformed Charlize Theron into Kelly’s doppelgänger with the Academy Award winning actress providing the spot on mannerisms and news style that brought millions to the channel every night for her program “The Kelly File”.  In one of the best performances of the year, there is no question Theron will be on the short list for adding another Oscar to her mantel, but does the film equal her performance and bring forth a strong retelling of this watershed moment in the news world?

     Written by Charles Randolph, whose screenplay for 2015’s “The Big Short” took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, “Bombshell” was marketed as a star powered take on the material where an ever-present abundance of entertainment value would take center stage and provide the kind of juicy dialogue driven scenes the actors would presumably thrive in.  Now all of them certainly thrive, but the dramatic stakes in play are not only presented in a more serious tone, but there are a number of sequences that are difficult to watch.  What begins with Megyn Kelly breaking the fourth wall to give the audience a tour of the Fox News headquarters building and the power structure within, quickly devolves into a sexually charged male dominated work environment that was bound to crumble.  It was just a matter of who would speak up first.

     If you followed these events as they occurred, then some of the dramatic impact the film seeks to achieve may end up lost, but fortunately the main players are fueled on screen by powerhouse performances from the aforementioned Charlize Theron, as well as Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, and John Lithgow.  All four of these actors should be remembered during awards season.

     After her perceived demotion from the popular morning show “Fox and Friends” to a lesser watched afternoon slot, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is suddenly let go from the network when her viewpoints become a bit too moderate for the right leaning news channel.  And that’s when she brings a sexual harassment lawsuit against Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), who initially dismisses the claims and utilizes his immense platform to ensure Carlson is not only discredited, but also unable to work in the business ever again.  Carlson’s attorneys point out the need for others to come forward in order to strengthen the case, but the culture, which sees Ailes privately examining each perspective on air news woman to determine their suitability for a “visual medium” as he explains it, is awash with programming mandates that see women wearing short skirts and directors who frame every shot to include these women’s lower half.  As Kelly explains early on, it’s a rapid fire purposeful combination of conservative talking points and titillation in every show.

     “Bombshell” is not based on a book or news article written by any of the people involved, but rather a combination of interviews and conversations with dozens of people who worked at Fox News at the time and could provide detailed incite on how much of this transpired.  In doing so, Randolph and Roach create a fictional character named Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a wide eyed and ambitious producer who someday hopes to rise atop the ranks with her own show.  And after working for Gretchen Carlson, she is suddenly given a promotion to the staff of the highly rated Bill O’Reilly (Kevin Dorff) after a chance meeting with Ailes himself, who gives her advice on how to succeed.  All of which seems innocent at first, but a second meeting proves otherwise when lines are crossed and careers are potentially ruined.

     Some of the more intriguing bits follow the aftermath of the Fox News Republican Presidential Debate where Kelly famously called out Donald Trump for his constant demeaning of women, which saw Trump charging back on a news program the next day claiming Kelly "had blood coming out of her eyes and wherever”.  The back and forth between the Republican Presidential hopeful and the well known Fox personality was one of the biggest news stories during the 2016 campaign, and the blowback against Kelly affected not only her standing in the newsroom, but also moved into her family life where her husband and children often found themselves in the crosshairs of the nut jobs out there who wanted Kelly gone.

     But Trump’s antics aside, the film delves into several uncomfortable and incredibly difficult issues.  All of which are handled in a manner that effectively communicates the problems within the work environment and the systemic harassment nearly every woman had to endure in order to be accepted.  And if you’re wondering how it got like that, well, as they say, it all started at the top.  It seems everyone was well aware of what Roger Ailes was doing, and those directly below him were happy to not only defend their powerful boss, but were also inclined to engage in similar activities themselves at all levels of the organization.  “Bombshell” presents these events in a manner that puts us in the room where everything feels alive and fast paced.  Decisions are being made with rapid fire intensity as a Presidential Primary plays out before the country’s eyes.  But behind closed doors, another story was unfolding.  And it was the courageous efforts of these women who ended the reign of a vile predator once and for all.  GRADE: B+