Making The News The Wrong Way: Bombshell
The movie Bombshell takes a look at incidents that the Fox News network in 2016. The fireworks begin when one of its biggest on-air personalities, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), finds herself removed from her leading role on the morning show Fox And Friends. She's placed on one of their late afternoon shows, where she improves the ratings in the time slot. However, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) finds an excuse to fire her. Carlson then seeks legal counsel, and eventually sues Ailes for sexual harassment. The lawsuit becomes the talk around the newsroom. Some talk about similar treatment from Ailes, while the network's top female personality, Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) keeps silent, in spite of her troubles with Donald Trump.
Kelly stays focused on her duties, and does her best to protect the folks who work for her and know her Ailes tale. One of those working for the newscaster is Kayla Popisil (Margot Robbie), an assistant with her own reasons to behave discretely. The young assistant, though, wants to move up the Fox News ladder, and finds out about Ailes for herself when she gets a meeting with him. While Carlson receives a confidential settlement that includes a non-disclosure agreement, others are eager to tell their stories and hear from Kelly. All the talk leads to Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell) making some decisions about the future direction of the network.
Bombshell, which is based on the actual events at Fox News, is a good look at the culture that created problems for Fox News. Director Jay Roach is best known for his comedies (the Austin Powers and Fockers trilogies). However, he won Emmys for his HBO movies Game Change and Recount, dramas focused on the world of presidential politics. In Bombshell, Roach does his imitation of an Aaron Sorkin movie, letting his liberal leanings show. This movie especially reminds me of Sorkin's Molly's Game, in which the main character stands accused of running an illegal gambling operation, as well as tax evasion and other things. Just as Molly Bloom narrates her tale, Megyn Kelly takes viewers on a tour of Fox News when the cameras aren't running. The script comes from Charles Randolph, who won an Oscar for his screen adaptation of The Big Short. While The Big Short had a big ensemble full of character and detail, Randolph here introduces viewers - usually very briefly - to virtually every on-air network personality, including Bill O'Reilly (Kevin Dorff), whose own allegations of harassment led to his departure from Fox News. The need for inclusion of personalities takes precedence over character and detail.
The makeup crew, though, deserves a great deal of credit, especially in the work they did to transform Theron into Kelly. The actress looks as though Roach had cast Megyn Kelly herself. Theron, for her part, embodies the anchor in the lead role. Theron not only shows concerns about the accusations of her colleagues, but she also needs to focus on her responsibilities in front of the camera. Kelly already has one big name detractor among the network's viewership, and the secret she holds would give Fox one more excuse for treating her like Carlson. Robbie, as Popisil, is a composite of the others who had grievances against Ailes. Kayla is a closeted liberal who's also tries to keep quiet about her relationship with co-worker Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon). Kayla finds she's no less vulnerable to the private demands of Ailes than most other ambitious female employees. Kidman, as Carlson, shows how hard things can be for anyone daring to challenge Fox News leadership, even for her as a former Miss America. Lithgow brings very reliable support as Ailes, a man whose attitudes show themselves in both attitude and appearance.
The title Bombshell is a double entendre. The allegations themselves were one bombshell. The other bombshell was the sexually fetching image Ailes expected his on air women to convey. Fox News, in the tenure of Roger Ailes, showed that equal treatment for men and women did not exist. Megyn Kelly was one person who knew a way to counter Ailes and his ways. The end of the movie, which reveals the outcome of the harassment incidents, punctuates the different treatment between men and women at the network. Instead of reporting the news, Fox News became the news in a most unflattering way.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Bombshell three stars. So much for fair and balanced.
© 2020 Pat Mills