If creepiness were condensation, you’d need an umbrella to view Bombshell, the story of the fall of Fox News’s chief architect Roger Ailes. Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, you’ve been educated on the #MeToo movement during the evening news. This movie portrays one outrageous example of male power used to exploit women in the workplace. Of course, this workplace is known to be a cutthroat environment where integrity can be in sparse supply and good looks get you a seat at the on-air table where we all dine on the latest news and gossip. And in this particular setting you wear shorter skirts or are labeled a man-hater. Or both. “Legs - that’s why the desks are glass.”
Nicole Kidman plays Gretchen Ryan, the Stanford and Oxford educated 1989 Miss America who took a seat on Fox & Friends between Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade, two drunk-uncle-cavemen Fox shills whose banter was frequently inappropriate and often cringe worthy. Carlson seemed to be a willing participant, taking the abuse with a smile, but therein lies one element of the #MeToo phenomenon. Carlson was not willing, and when push came to shove went public with a highly calculated plan to dethrone Roger Ailes for sexual harassment.
Her biggest challenge was the need to not go it alone. Bombshell illustrates the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox news empire’s culture of enmeshed sexual abuse in the hands of men positioned to make or break careers. The film also explores the ripples that extend into the lives and careers of support staff, families and friends of the victims. Lawyer and journalist Megyn Kelly, played astonishingly spot-on by the chameleon-like Charlize Theron, walks us through the offices, building and relationships within Fox headquarters in New York. Her own controversial comments aside, she was front and center as Donald Trump rose to power with an intense creep factor all his own that we witnessed live or on tape during the lead up to the 2016 election. Kelly’s challenge was also one that had great potential to end her career without adequate support from fellow victims.
Along comes Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), the blondest and youngest of them all, an upstart who fashions herself an “evangelical millennial.” Hers is an amalgamated role comprising protected testimony from as many as twenty women. She seems willing to walk over just about anyone in her quest to become on-air talent, jumping into bed with a closeted lesbian/democrat played by Kate McKinnon, her new friend who eventually asks not to be involved with Kayla’s ventures into Roger’s lair. She knows that the repercussions will be immediate and severe.
Ailes is played by a suitably fattened, enraged and slimy John Lithgow. Make-up artists transformed several characters to the point at which it’s unknown whether CGI is at work. Walking the halls and in meetings we run into Greta Van Susteren, Jeanine Pirro, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and even Rudy Guliani. Here, the casting department deserves kudos for finding impersonators to fill these roles, however briefly.
It should be noted that neither Carlson nor Kelly had anything to do with the production of Bombshell (a nice pun). They are prevented by non-disclosures from ever speaking about their lawsuits. In fact Carlson has begun her own organization called Lift Our Voices to address this legal tool’s ability to cover up harassment, thereby perpetuating it.
Malcolm McDowell, age 76, plays Rupert Murdoch, who cuts Ailes a check for $65 million as he is ushered out the door. In contrast, Fox only paid out $50 million to the participants in the lawsuit. Carlson’s take was $20 million. Lachlan and James Murdoch, Rupert’s adult sons appear sporadically throughout the film, seeming more like emotionless henchman than children being groomed. Or perhaps, that’s Rupert’s intent.
Jay Roach wrote, produced and directed Bombshell, but Charlize Theron was also in a producer role. This is her 22nd outing as producer, including Monster and Atomic Blonde.
This wasn’t a noteworthy example of filmmaking, but was interesting, engaging and a nice job of story telling. There’s no real reason to see it in a theater unless you’re eager to see it soon.
Here is an embarrassing video montage of moments from Gretchen’s eight years on Fox & Friends:
Bombshell (2019) runs 1 hour 49 minutes and is rated R.
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