Bombshell tells a story that’s been in the news more often than not in the last few years, taking on various forms with various villains. For those not in the know, ex-Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued her boss, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment in 2016. That act launched a company-wide investigation and eventually many more accusations which ousted Ailes from his position of power, preceding the Harvey Weinstein saga and serving as a precursor to the #MeToo movement.
Those who are already aware of the events may not feel the need to see Bombshell, as it is mostly a recap of the incident in question. However, the strong suit of Charles Randolph’s scripts isn’t its accurate depiction of events but rather the impartiality with which it paints each of its dubious heroines.
Bombshell Does Fair and Balanced Right
Asking viewers to sympathize with the likes of Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) is tough sell, no matter which side of the political spectrum you land on. Many conservatives thought her a traitor when she dared to question Donald Trump, while liberals thought her a hypocrite for espousing similar beliefs before. But Bombshell makes the task easier by simply presenting the facts with little embellishment other than Theron’s asides to the audience.
In fact, Bombshell opens on Trump’s attacks through use of his actual tweets and – more surprisingly – the actual footage of his interviews. There is no actor to play him because he is already a caricature in and of himself. Furthermore, Theron modulates her voice to a near spot-on imitation of Kelly’s, which sometimes makes it hard to distinguish whether you’re watching fiction or reality. Her commitment to the performance helps viewers treat Megyn just as she is, rather than putting her on a pedestal or throwing her to the wolves.
While the rest of the cast does not follow her lead in terms of transforming into the real-life figures they’re interpreting, Bombshell is filled with powerful performances. Nicole Kidman shines as Gretchen Carlson, a woman keeping herself together even as she is falling apart at the seams – and she does so without chewing any scenery or ever going over the top. Margot Robbie, meanwhile, plays a fictional amalgamation of various women in Kayla. As her perky ambition slowly devolves into passive victimhood, it’s nearly impossible not to root for her to pick herself up again.
The First Cut Should Be Deeper
The pacing in Bombshell is another one of its strong points, as it rarely drags and hits every beat of defeat or victory just in time. However, it suffers slightly for this same reason. The slick production and comedic one-liners that pepper the story sometimes detract from the serious subject matter, and the relatively short runtime also means the script can’t go too in-depth.
Overall, Bombshell does a solid job of showcasing the grey area between allowing injustice to happen to others and standing up when it happens to you. But there’s still the sense that the script could have dug a little further for insights beyond the need for women to stand together – which is an important message to send, granted.
Another instance in which the quick clip of the film muddles the truth is perhaps in the presentation of the Murdochs. If one were to go into the theater with no knowledge of who they are, they might walk out thinking of them as heroes of the story. Withholding Rupert Murdoch until the final act, where he can play his deus ex machina card against Ailes, only reinforces that. Which is not to say that he can’t be against the man’s behavior and still out for himself. It’s just that Bombshell didn’t have much room to explore any nuance with him.
That being said, Bombshell certainly guarantees a good time. Some pretty impressive performances and quippy dialogue make for an enjoyable reimagining of what is still a very relevant moment in recent American history. And don’t forget to stick around for Regina Spektor’s “One Little Soldier” in the credits, because the track is a delight.
Bombshell premieres in select theaters on December 13th, with a runtime of 108 minutes. It is rated R for for sexual material and language throughout.