Published Dec 16, 2019In 2016, Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes became the subject of a widespread sexual assault scandal that saw his accusers discredited and debased on live television — sometimes on their own programs and by their coworkers. At the centre of the scandal was Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox and Friends anchor who was unceremoniously fired after trying to create programming that centred on women's stories. Following her termination, Carlson would go on to file a lawsuit against Ailes himself, alleging that he had sexually harassed her during their time working together at Fox. Carlson hoped deeply that the other women she suspected had also been harassed by Ailes would come forward and back up her story — but it wasn't going to be that easy.
Bombshell tells this true story from multiple perspectives. Catalyzing the story is Nicole Kidman's Carlson who — with the help of some pro lawyers — strategically targets Ailes (John Lithgow) personally in lieu of going after the Fox network itself. Concurrently, another anchor, Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), faces an onslaught of sexist attacks from the would-be president of the United States during the 2016 election campaigns. All the while, the film's composite fictional character "Kayla" (Margot Robbie) endures Ailes' sexual advances, pressured by the prospect of climbing the Fox News ladder. Kelly, eventually spurred by ongoing misogynist attacks (and the suspicion that she's not alone), is inspired to come to Carlson's aid.
Just don't call her a feminist.
Theron's Megyn Kelly is nearly indiscernible from the real thing — seriously, it's freaky — proving she is just as much a master at her craft as she has proven herself to be in acclaimed features like Monster and Mad Max: Fury Road. Unfortunately for Bombshell, Theron's artistry is one of the few highlights in the film. Robbie and Lithgow's performances hold up, but don't enhance the story in any spectacular way. Kidman's contribution is significant, but her prowess is largely untapped. Moreover, the plot is scattered, disorganized — perhaps in part meant to mirror the insanity that is Fox News, but to what effect?
More than anything, the question is whether or not this story needed to be told through the medium of cinema, and if the answer is yes, is Bombshell the appropriate vessel? It's a courageous undertaking, of course, but the story is morally conflicting. We're meant to sympathize for these characters who directly fuel the machine that births the toxic environment to which they're subjected. Megyn Kelly is adamantly anti-feminist, a sentiment that is repeated several times throughout the film, often as a response to her criticism of toxic structures (sounds like you are a feminist, Megyn); evangelical Kayla seeks out homosexual relationships while simultaneously demonizing liberal ideologies. Throughout the film you'll see a glimmer in Theron's eyes, suggesting that Kelly is finally going to drop the Republican rigidity and support the women who need her. As we know, she does eventually come to their aid, but long after extended consideration about how it will affect her image. It's all outrageously frustrating.
The closing action of the film offers little resolve — we know in real life that Kelly has moved on from Fox News and that Roger Ailes died shortly after he was ousted — but the film doesn't do much to tie up the loose ends it creates. The epilogue is delivered through Wikipedia-esque blurbs, a trope that doesn't fit the subject matter and certainly doesn't respect the gravity of the trauma it documents. For a story about the success of a sexual misconduct lawsuit, Bombshell doesn't feel empowering. It feels disheartening.