In 2016, after one female news anchor files a case against Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, a number of other women also speak out about the inappropriate and often exploitative activities conducted in the senior executive’s private chambers.
Jay Roach directs this drama based on true events (the film was green-lit following Ailes’s death in 2017) that led to a sexual harassment case against Ailes (John Lithgow). Besides the discomfort felt by female employees and anchors at the channel, Charles Randolph’s script also spotlights chauvinism and Ailes’s disdain for female employees. Ailes auditions prospective news anchors by asking them to twirl as he checks out their legs because, legs, he says, keep the viewer’s attention. The unwritten channel ethos is “if you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys".
Told in voiceover format, the linear storyline takes us into the Fox HQ, around its newsroom and into the power centre where the big boys play their games. After years of tolerating sexual advances and harassment, the tide turns after Ailes discards senior anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) when she attempts to negotiate a more meaningful position in the newsroom. Carlson now gathers resources to sue her former boss.
Ailes’s heartlessness is further demonstrated by his disinterest in the backlash faced by star anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) when she challenges presidential candidate Donald Trump in a televised debate. Along with the incredible work by the prosthetic, hair and make up teams, Theron entirely inhabits and transforms into Megyn Kelly.
Margot Robbie’s character, Kayla Pospisil, an ambitious associate producer, is a composite and Robbie is terrific, especially in a discomfiting scene when she is faced with an indecent proposal that requires her to keep raising her skirt. Theron, Kidman and Robbie are the pillars of this drama.
The supporting cast includes brothers Ben and Josh Lawson playing brothers Lachlan and James Murdoch, with Malcolm McDowell playing their father and Fox owner Rupert Murdoch. Kate McKinnon plays a lesbian producer who tries to fly below the radar in order to conceal her sexual orientation and retain her job. Some of the sundry characters that populate the newsroom play on the fringe of parody.
Bombshell avoids a big bang in favour of a firm commitment to a screenplay that succumbs to occasional theatrics, but understands the nuances of sexism, harassment and #MeToo.