Explosive! Bombshell is a brilliantly orchestrated and riveting film that takes you behind the scenes at Fox News in the months leading up to the oust of news business mogul Roger Ailes. Follow Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, and (fictionalized) Kayla as they battle the courts of public opinion and the seemingly impenetrable fortress of Fox News to take down the repulsive Roger Ailes. I went into this film prepared for a snark-filled satire, but what I was presented with was a meticulously written and directed docudrama that struck a fantastic balance between feature news story, so to speak, and motion picture. Although the film takes itself appropriately seriously, there are plenty of moments of levity that intertwine to strike the perfect tone. Where films tackling subjects as high profile and personal as this one occasionally fall victim to creating caricatures of real people and settings. Rather than limit the film to dramatizing the legal battle and cold hard facts, it uses the fictionalized character of Kayla to explore the psycho-social cost of being the victim of sexual harassment. So this film is just as much a human story as it is a recreation of an actual event. And it’s that human component that is explored through Kayla, Megyn, and Gretchen that gives this film incredible depth. There is no pretense in this film; it’s a raw, organic approach to adapting this story from the small screen to the big screen. You even get a few surprise cameos from some some familiar anchors and other personalities. Exemplary writing and direction is coupled with a highly effective stylistic cinematography and outstanding performances by the lead and supporting cast.
Bombshell is the dramatization of the downfall of Fox News mogul Roger Ailes that chronicles a group of women as they decide to take on the mastermind of the “fair and balanced” cable news network and the toxic atmosphere he presided over at Fox News.
There have been a few films in recent years that seek to dramatize and tackle the human cost of lecherous sexual harassment and abuse of power in the work place. But this is the first one to strike the perfect balance of PSA and dramatic plot. I love the irony all throughout the film, the stark contrast between “traditional values,” and “fair and balanced” approaches and the repulsive behavior behind the scenes. Yes, Ailes might look like a pioneer for women in that he was the first to truly give women the big anchor chair, but at a scaring and traumatizing cost. He was a sadistic magician of sorts with his “look at what my right hand is doing, meanwhile my left hard is truly pulling the strings.” Much like the news network that he built (and to his credit, he was a broadcast news business genius), the surface was not a reflection of the disgusting practices to craft this “family friendly” illusion. The truly scary portrait that this film paints is not limited to Fox News, but it is likely a reflection of the business of running a “visual medium” by in large. While much of what Ailes did was direct sexual abuse and harassment, he committed a lot of indirect abuse and harassment that leaves just as traumatizing a mark upon the women he abused. Much like Hustlers posited that the entire world is a strip club where a few are dancing while the majority are paying, this film also explores the dark, seedy underbelly of “sex sells” and sex appeal.
The performances are mindblowing! How Charlize Theron completely transformed into Megyn Kelly is nearly as uncanny as Rene Zellweger’s transformation into Judy Garland in Judy. You will swear that you are watching Kelly on the big screen. Theron not only nails the look of Kelly, but the tone of voice, rhythm of speech, and body language. She is truly captivating, and showcases her phenomenal acting chops. Here’s hoping for an Oscar nom for her! Although Megyn Kelly is the central character, she is supported by Gretchen Carlson brilliantly portrayed by Nicole Kidman and fictionalized Kayla, played by Margot Robbie. In the same vein of Theron’s excellent performance, Kidman also nails Carlson down to a science. When I watched Kidman on the Fox and Friends set, I swore that it was Carlson herself. Kidman brings out the strength of character and vulnerability of Carlson. It is clear that Kidman did her homework as well as her character did. Finishing out our trifecta of women at Fox is Kayla, an entry level staff member on various shows at Fox News. She is our conduit through which we experience the extend of Ailes reprehensible behaviors behind the scenes. She represents a young eager professional that can be found in many offices. She is the “everyman,” for all intents and purposes. This role gave her so much to work with, and she was able to demonstrate the wide breadth of her acting abilities. Such a versatile actor! I also appreciate the writing of her character for giving us a normal, every day, woman of faith. One whom isn’t prudish, judgmental, or pious. Her character was likable, sex positive, and NOT homophobic. However, she also highlights how many conservatives view Fox News. And you can feel her heart break as she falls victim to Ailes, that moment she realizes and experiences that the head of Fox News is a disgusting human being.
Not only do the women shine brilliantly in this film, but John Lithgow’s Roger Ailes is fantastic! It’s hard to praise such a disgusting man, but here we have to separate the actor from the character. Lithgow is one of the most charismatic and witty actors ever, and he convinces us that he IS Ailes. I can only imagine the difficulty in portraying such a villainous person. What stands out the most in the performance, aside from the image, is how much he humanized Ailes. Showed him to self-aware of his body image and how he, much like we, rationalize negative behaviors. But it’s this human side that makes Ailed even more frightening. He successfully turns Ailes from TV business diabolical genius to mob boss. Towards the end of the film, we get an appearance by Malcolm McDowell as Rupert Murdoch himself. Such a delightful surprise to see McDowell on the big screen again. His Rupert is on point! And in his brief time on screen, he commands it strongly.
The choice of cinematography was very interesting. The movie starts out as if we are at Fox News HQ on a tour of the facility and shows. Our guide is Megyn Kelly! She simultaneously walks us through the facility and provides poignant social commentary on the image and relationships of Fox News to the world. The manner that the camera moves throughout the scenes of the film is in a documentary fashion in the scenes that are real-life recreations of the actual events. When we are in a fictionalized part of the movie, then the camera moves in a more traditional manner for scripted motion pictures. This oscillation between objective and subjective makes for a dynamic experience. Instead of a clip show of headlines and what trended in social media during this time, the film goes deeper to reveal the heart of the issue: ultimate power. Tension and suspense are built effectively as the narrative unfolds in a gripping fashion. From the creative to the technical, everything about this film works flawlessly.
Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!