- Emma Simmonds
- 13 January 2020
Charlize Theron is the standout in this star-studded take on the Fox News sexual harassment scandal
The most contentious of American institutions, Fox News, receives a brisk dressing down in this glossy, entertaining spin on the Roger Ailes sexual harassment scandal. It's provocative material – a film that requires you to sympathise with those who push an agenda many abhor and that asks how victims could ever hope to be taken seriously at an organisation which wore sexism so shamelessly on its sleeve.
The brainchild of two men (director Jay Roach and writer Charles Randolph, an Oscar-winner for his work on The Big Short), if that aspect immediately disappoints, the casting at least does not. Appropriately enough, given the politics of the network in question, Bombshell has brought out the big guns: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie join forces at the fore.
Theron is legal eagle turned Fox News golden girl Megyn Kelly; Kidman plays the former Miss America Gretchen Carlson – now a thorn in the channel's side, unafraid to take a more female-friendly tack on air; Robbie plays a composite character, ambitious newbie Kayla Pospisil, an initially mockable figure, who describes herself as an 'evangelical millennial' and an 'influencer in the Jesus space'; meanwhile, John Lithgow is a suitably indignant and colossally repugnant Ailes.
Moving at speed, it introduces us to a truly toxic workplace. With its regulation short skirts, routine misogyny and a dog-eat-dog mentality which deliberately rules out sharing stories or making friends, Bombshell efficiently captures the culture of an organisation which unashamedly peddles in fear and hate ('Ask yourself what would scare my grandmother or piss off my grandfather. And that's a Fox story,' Kate McKinnon's closet Democrat tells Kayla). We watch as the nervous energy of the newsroom gives way to stomach-churning encounters.
Bombshell can feel glib and detached, favouring snappiness over a serious examination of the crimes; Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly, for example, who was also the subject of several sexual harassment lawsuits around the time, is reduced to a weird CGI effect.
Still, the combined conviction of the central trio is more than enough to hold your attention. Theron, in particular, is excellent; made up to closely resemble Kelly, she plays her like a clench-jawed, husky-voiced lioness, shrewdly gauging when to strike. Kidman and Robbie are compelling too, though the former is perhaps less well-served in a film that never satisfactorily gets to grips with the impact of putting yourself in the firing line and hoping others will follow.
Favouring accessibility, dignity and neat Oscar-friendly speeches over ugly emotion and genuine outrage, this is a slick, very Hollywood take on a scandal which, for the industry, should feel uncomfortably close to home. There's nothing inherently wrong with men making this movie, or tailoring it to reach the widest possible audience, had it shown the sensitivity and anger which befits the subject. Touching on issues of likeability and solidarity, Bombshell poses some difficult questions, though it's hard not to wonder: are the right people really asking them?
General release from Fri 17 Jan.