A winning factor in this true-life drama is the contribution made by our own star export, Charlize Theron. She serves both as co-producer on Bombshell and is also the narrative’s leading figure, playing Megyn Kelly, almost unrecognisable facially as she slips effortlessly into the feisty TV anchor personality.
She’s also been nominated for an Oscar for this role as one of the characters in the centre of the Fox News scandal of 2016 which brought down its lascivious, obese head honcho, Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. It is Theron’s third Oscar nomination, having already won for Monster. Most South Africans are not too familiar with the circumstances that drove this story and the film’s frenetic opening half is riddled with fast, cutting dialogue and numerous characters popping in and out of the frame.
It takes time for it to settle into an effective rhythm, but overall it requires far more detail and nuance for uninitiated viewers. I followed some of the drama that unfolded in July 2016, so was mostly au fait with the situation and the leading lights who ran Fox News, US President Donald Trump’s channel of choice. Trump appears in archived footage and only when his interactions with Kelly were too prominent to be ignored.
Bombshell clearly shows how, during an era of greater media scrutiny, even “untouchable” men in power can be brought down given the right circumstances. Ailes’ fall effectively helped seed the ground in which the #MeToo movement would eventually take root. The production features an amazing cast; Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, the deposed host whose allegations opened a can of worms; Margot Robbie as the fictional Kayla Pospisil (an amalgamation of various Ailes victims); John Lithgow as the troglodyte-ish Ailes; Allison Janney as Ailes’ lawyer, Susan Estrich; and Malcolm McDowell as Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
Director Jay Roach (Trumbo) handles the actors and screenplay adroitly, extracting commanding performances from several of his high-profile names while maintaining a crisp pace. By opting for a traditional approach, which provides straightforward chronology of the screenplay, Roach avoids experimenting or being more spontaneous or inventive in his storytelling process.
The closest he gets is an early sequence where Kate McKinnon’s Jess Carr takes the impressionable Kayla on a whirlwind tour of Fox News, including various “dos” and “don’ts”. Interestingly enough, no attempts are made to give the Ailes character a more human face and he comes across as a monster, a user and prime manipulator who operates with impunity from his highly protected domain.
The high standard of the acting, especially from Theron, Lithgow, Kidman and Robbie (with her Oscar nod for best supporting actress), is reason enough to see Bombshell. It all makes for compelling cinema.
- Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Allison Janney, Connie Britton, Mark Duplass, Malcolm McDowell
- Director: Jay Roach
- Classification: 16 LPSV