Apparently 2019 was the year Hollywood decided to shit on former Fox News CEO and chairman Roger Ailes. Ailes, a controversial figure who left Fox News after being accused of sexual misconduct from a number of women, passed away in 2017, and in Hollywood, a two year buffer is all you get before a movie can be made about you. Ailes got the television treatment with Showtime’s The Loudest Voice and the cinematic treatment with Jay Roach’s Bombshell.
The show and the movie both focus on Ailes and his sexual misconduct while at Fox News, but they look at it from different perspectives. The Loudest Voice looks at it more from Ailes perspective, making him a tyrannical monster who’s fall was greater than his rise, and Bombshell looks at it from a few of the women on the forefront of this controversy, mainly Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. Comparing the two wouldn’t be fair, as they are two different entities and two forms of media, and seeing as I am a film critic, it only makes sense that I focus on Bombshell.
Though he’s had success in the past with political-centered films on HBO, it’s interesting that someone decided that Jay Roach was the right director for Bombshell. In a movie that focuses on the effect of Roger Ailes from the perspective of a few women, having a male director try and convey this didn’t work one bit. What could have been a truly horrifying, yet powerful film about women rising up against a powerful, disgusting man, turns into a messy, unfocused, tonally uneven film that wastes a spectacular performance by Charlize Theron.
Megyn Kelly (Theron) is one of Fox News’ biggest anchors and personalities. Though she reports on a news station that has a reputation for its sexist remarks and toxic work environment, Megyn is a true professional, claiming to not be a feminist and knowing that her job at Fox News pays her life. When disgruntled afternoon anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) gets fired and sues Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) for sexual harassment, a spotlight is shined on Megyn on whether or not she will defend Roger, like most of the women at Fox News, or come to the defense of of Gretchen and the handful of other women who have come forward.
Charlize Theron gives an incredible performance as Megyn Kelly. Kelly, an infamous personality who was the face on controversy when she challenged then Presidential nominee Donald Trump during the debates about his sexist and woman-hating remarks, was the deciding voice in the Roger Ailes controversy. Where her voice went, whether defending Roger or backing Gretchen, was going to be the deciding factor in what happened in this lawsuit. Theron nails the mannerisms, speaking patterns, and even the way Kelly speaks. The make-up on her is unbelievable and alone worth awards consideration. But watching Theron depict the struggle Kelly faced really grabs you, as she goes from a woman who always looked the other way whenever something inappropriate would happen around her for the sake of her career to being biggest voice in Ailes’ downfall is really captivating and far and away the best part of the film. I wish all of Bombshell was about Kelly and what she went through, as it would have given Theron more the work with and been far more interesting.
The Megyn Kelly stuff is just part of the film. The other strong part of the film comes from the stuff with Gretchen Carlson. Carlson was the key player in this whole controversy, as she was the one who initiated the lawsuit and the first to really come forward about Roger’s actions. However, she is almost an afterthought in the film and isn’t in the film nearly as much as she should be. The film also doesn’t give her enough credit for what she did, never giving her a truly triumphant moment. Kidman does excellent work as Carlson, showing the desperation and determination of a woman who has had enough of Roger’s antics and goes after the most powerful man at Fox News, yet also a woman who did all of her research so that she could bring Roger down clean and hard. If Bombshell had been Megyn’s story with Gretchen playing second fiddle, this could have been a truly special movie.
Unfortunately, Bombshell wants to focus on a character who isn’t even real. Margot Robbie also stars in the film as Kayla Pospisil, the hot new employee at Fox News with dreams of being on camera. Again, this character isn’t real and ultimately serves no purpose in the film. Like Carlson’s story, Pospisil is not developed enough to matter. She is a key player early on in the film, as she meets with Ailes and has her own personal and uncomfortable encounter with him to prove that she will do anything to be on camera. But after that, her character almost vanishes from the film, showing up briefly after Gretchen launches the lawsuit and then having a brief encounter with Kelly about her “meetings” with Ailes. I was confused as to what the point of her character was? There was enough in the film between Kelly and Carlson that bringing in a fake character was unnecessary. I love Robbie as a talent and she does some really strong work with what she is given, but it’s really a complete waste and takes away from the better stories.
I’m not sure if this movie is a comedy or drama and neither does Roach. In a film about a very serious subject, Roach made a film reminiscent of The Big Short, yet less in control. The editing is all over the place, the tones don’t blend, and the story and plot fly off the rails relatively quickly. This is a movie that needed a steady, female hand behind the camera in order to get the proper emotion out the film. This is a film that should have horrified people and gave them a sense of triumph when Ailes goes down. Instead, this is an emotionally flat film and one of the bigger disappointments of 2019.