Courtesy of Lionsgate
Charlize Theron won an Oscar for playing a sadistic murderer in “Monster,” so the actress knows a thing or two about transforming herself into complex characters. In “Bombshell” - the true story about the fall of Fox News’ CEO Roger Ailes - Theron finds herself the conduit of a new vessel: prominent news anchor Megyn Kelly. With the help from Oscar winning makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji (who helped turn Gary Oldmen into Winston Churchill for “The Darkest Hour”) Theron disappears into the role. Complete with facial prosthetics, special contact lenses, and lowering her voice almost two octaves (to the point where she damaged her vocal chords while filming), Theron should find herself in serious award contention this season.
Of course, the narrative shouldn't revolve entirely around Theron’s bold transformation, “Bombshell” - directed by Jay Roach - takes “The Big Short” route by taking an important topic and giving it the mainstream treatment (it’s also an excellent companion piece with Showtime’s excellent miniseries “The Loudest Voice” which featured Russell Crowe as Ailes from earlier this year). While uneven at times and unsure of how to divulge the tricky narrative with thousands of moving components, “Bombshell” has enough razor sharp edges and political humor in its blood akin to last year’s witty “Vice” to fully power it’s nearly two hour runtime.
Taking place in the midst of the 2015 election cycle that quietly saw Donald Trump ascend to his eventual presidential victory, Roach takes us behind the scenes of the shape-shifting Fox News landscape. Kate McKinnon - playing a closted lesbian liberal - goes on to tell her new co-worker Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) how crazy of a place Fox News actually is. Women are played against each other on a daily basis, and to get ahead you must appease the pervy “leg man” Ailes (John Lithgow in a terrific portrayal) who runs the entire operation. So much for “fair and balanced” as the Fox News slogan often reads in the rearview.
Though Kaya is central to one of the several intertwining subplots in “Bombshell,” the real focal point is Kelly who gets caught up in a public stalemate with Trump after a slew of snarky insults following a 2015 Republican debate. While she shoulders most of the trolls from lousy Twitter feeds, her colleague Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is trying to build a case against the seemingly untouchable Ailes for sexual misconduct. Kelly has indifferent feelings on the matter as Ailes both groomed and harassed her on multiple occasions. But at what point do you check your ethics at the door?
Told from the women’s perspective, unlike “The Loudest Voice,” writer Charles Randolph (who wrote “The Big Short”) doesn’t allot much screen time to Carlson’s subplot and the tale of Kayla - who was created for dramatic purposes - is more or less narrative fodder to help put Ailes cruel behind closed door meetings into perspective.
However, Robbie is outstanding at portraying Kayla’s frail mental state, and glowing character arc, while Lithgow cracks open Ailes unpleasantness in one bullhorn sentence after the other. There’s a sequence late in the film where Kayla breaks down about the trauma and abuse she’s face not only in her career but in real life too and it was extremely moving. As a man, I’ll never know or understand the type of pressure these women faced, but at least “Bombshell” - as imperfect as it is - can start a discussion and be a beacon for more change in the future.