Fox News arose in the 1990s as a refreshing option for conservative Americans. The network grew to be the biggest news conglomerate in the United States. This was all thanks to a partnership between News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and Fox News founder and CEO Roger Ailes. Fox News would account for a third of the revenue coming into News Corp., and Ailes was hailed as a mogul. However, in 2016 Ailes was brought down by the discovering of his systemic sexual harassment to women at Fox News. The story was brought informatively to the small screen in limited series The Loudest Voice (2019) and it has now also hit the big screens with Bombshell (2019)
Bombshell focuses on the stories of three women: Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) a star anchor of Fox News who is not afraid of deviating from a conservative pandering and pose difficult questions to Republican Presidential candidates (aka Donald Trump); Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) an ex-co-anchor at show Fox and Friends, but after some friction with her sexist co-hosts, was demoted to an early afternoon show; and Kayla (Margot Robbie) an assistant to Carlson who has high ambitions of her own. They all revolve under the shadow of Ailes (John Lithgow), and they each begin to form their ideas of fighting back against him.
The Loudest Voice proved to be an informative limited series about the entire chronology of Fox News, however, it suffered from being too cut-and-dry with events and not digging into the immersion of the toxic atmosphere or the emotional effects (despite the good efforts of Naomi Watts in the Carlson role). Bombshell seems to be the complete inverse of the limited series; it is very adept at placing the audience in the uncomfortable situations that the poor Fox women were forced to undergo. Kayla’s story in particular was the most enlightening in emotional levels as we see her arc from a naïve and ambitious assistant, to a victim of Ailes. However, Bombshell proves to want to fit too much content in too little time, and thus the informative aspects of the film fall flat, to the point of confusing viewers.
The script, written by Charles Randolph of The Big Short (2015) fame, seems to adopt similar tactics to that stock market crash film. We have cutaways to different points in time and to examples as characters are talking, a voiceover from certain characters as they seemingly break the fourth wall, and even text plastering names and job descriptions on screen. This might have worked for The Big Short, which had a lighter tone, but the much more emotional subject-matter of Bombshell proves to not be such a snug fit. Director Jay Roach seemed to be aware of this dangerous tone and a tepid restraint is attempted by him between a straightforward chronological story and a messy montage of characters and comedy, the result is an unconvincing mixture of both. The focus of the narrative also seems to divert away from the simple Fox women vs. Ailes story to a larger narrative commenting on Trump, the Murdochs, and the legacy of Fox News. This thins out the central message and makes the horrid conclusions of the film have less of an impact and cohesion to viewers.
That’s not to say that the film doesn’t hammer its message home. The fabulous talent attached to the lead roles as well as the incredibly fascinating story are enough to enrapture viewers to the screen. Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie are particularly good in roles that require them to put on a mask at work while their insides are really churning with doubt and hurt. Other actors to be praised include the always great Lithgow as Ailes and Kate McKinnon in a surprising dramatic turn that indicates to her versatile acting prowess. Kidman’s Carlson, however, seems more sidelined than the actual history would require her to be. Carlson was the first woman to have the courage to come forward against Ailes, going about recording their conversations for nearly a year, but this slow fight is completely reduced to a throwaway line, and Kidman is left with a faded supporting role. This is to contrast with the large amount of screen time given to the more famous personality of Megyn Kelly, who, while also a participant to bring down Ailes, had a much smaller role in his downfall. This seems a bit unfair to Carlson and also dilutes what could have been an inspiring message of courage that one seemingly powerless woman can have against a powerful male bully.
In the end, Bombshell proves to be an alluring film; both for its look at a recent scandal as well as for the depictions of well-known personalities incarnated by top-tier talent. The film is able to bring about a good emotional dimension to sexual harassment situations, but their overall impact and sentimental climax seem to fall short in an unnecessarily overcrowded narrative with messy editing.