In 2016, Fox News was the centre of much political discourse. This was, at the time, due to several reasons – including its controversial and seemingly unconditional support of presidential candidate Donald Trump – but not least of which was due to the sexual assault claims levelled against CEO Roger Ailes.
Using the infamous scandal as the fabric for his latest endeavour, director Jay Roach (a fan of using reality as inspiration for his films, a la Trumbo), recounts the events preceding – and succeeding – the titular bombshell that hit the network like a seismic blast. After being fired from her job, former-anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) accused Ailes (a truly despicable John Lithgow) of sexual harassment, in turn inspiring other women to speak out against him, including popular host Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and hotshot producer Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie). Bombshell bears witness to their fight to take down one of television’s most wicked and powerful men.
In today’s political climate, a story like this feels necessary. It puts important themes under scrutiny, as well as holding a mirror up to its audience to question their own role and actions in this society. It’s a film about having your voice heard.
That said, it’s therefore disappointing to find that Bombshell is lacking its own voice; it is generic genre fare that takes a feather-light approach to its heavier subject material, diluting its potency, and which lacks the bite a story like this sorely needs. Whilst the quirkiness of Roach’s approach can work in some scenes, it’s mostly out of place; fourth-wall breaks, off-beat jokes and the inclusion of a democratic, closeted lesbian whose sole purpose is to serve as comedic relief feel miscalculated – and take away from the dramatic heft. Thankfully, the nature of the story – and the shocking events which unfolded – keeps the film consistently engrossing.
A slew of great performances also elevate Charles Randolph’s derivative script; the casting of Kidman, Theron and Robbie is ingenious and their combined talents make for a powerhouse trio. All deliver tough, empathetic performances that demonstrate these women’s resilience in the hardest situation imaginable. Robbie, in particular, earns her Oscar nomination in her scene-stealing role as the invented character Kayla, chewing through every single line with utter conviction. Lithgow is also terrifically slimy and vulgar as Ailes… It’s just a shame these performances are only serviced with, at best, a competent script.
Bombshell is saved thanks to the fascinating source material, a handful of great scenes, the urgent and timely themes at its core, and the committed performances from its cast. Unfortunately though, with a muddled tone and lack of focus, it never truly soars.
Bombshell is out January 17th.