Review by Sean Boelman
Bombshell, directed by Jay Roach (Trumbo) and written by Charles Randolph (The Big Short), promises to be a searing indictment of a system that is currently in shambles. Although this story is undeniably timely and very compelling, Randolph and Roach aren’t able to succeed in juggling all of the moving parts in the narrative.
The film purports to be a searing indictment of former Fox News head honcho Roger Ailes and the toxic workplace environment he created, and for the most part, it succeeds. However, by focusing on three women (two real and one a fictional composite) instead of just one, Randolph’s script ultimately spreads the movie’s resources too thin, as there is simply too much material to cover in a single film of less than two hours.
If the movie does one thing right, it is its portrayal of Roger Ailes. Randolph’s dialogue is excellent, particularly for the Ailes character, as it makes him feel truly serpentine in his actions. John Lithgow’s performance is arguably one of the year’s finest as, even below a mountain of (pretty impressive) prosthetics, he is able to convince the viewer of his charm despite the fact that we know he is wicked.
As one would expect, the film isn’t particularly subtle about its themes, but it is a surprisingly reasoned discussion of the debate that has arisen around this issue. Of course, Ailes’s perspective doesn’t get the time of day — he is clearly the villain in this scenario — but the movie does address the doubt that sometimes arises about these claims, thereby making a strong argument for believing victims.
It is in the pacing that this film unfortunately falters. The first act of the movie is extremely strong, with the wit of the script pushing it along and the horror of the more serious scenes crawling under one’s skin. That said, in the second act, the film takes a much more serious turn. Although this is required, because it would be difficult to respectfully handle that part of the story with a sense of humor, Roach and Randolph drop the ball on two of the three storylines, allowing Megyn Kelly to become the movie’s dominant force.
Roach’s style in the film is also quite rough around the edges. While there is an undeniable kineticism about the movie, one can’t help but feel like Roach gets a bit too wrapped up in the chaos for the film’s own good. Granted, the excessive amount of zooms and shaky shots do simulate the insanity of the devolving newsroom, but they can also be distracting at times.
In many ways, the acting is the most impressive part of the movie. The three leads, Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie, all do an excellent job in their roles. With the exception of the accent, which is a bit off-putting and sometimes drops in and out, Theron’s impression of Kelly is very good, capturing the mannerisms and personality of the anchor very well. These three are surrounded by an impressive supporting cast including Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Mark Duplass, Allison Janney, and more.
With such an interesting and important story at its core, Bombshell should have been one of the year’s best films. And while there are definitely some very good things happening, the script and execution simply lack the polish needed for the story to connect.
Bombshell is now playing in theaters.