In the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of filmmakers who started out in comedy branch out with more mature material. Adam McKay went from Anchorman to The Big Short, Todd Phillips went from The Hangover to Joker, and Peter Farrelly went from Dumb and Dumber to Green Book. It’s debatable when this recent trend started, but Jay Roach was among the first modern comedy directors to step out of his comfort zone. On the heels of laugh riots like Austin Powers and Meet the Parents, Roach tackled two defining chapters in 21st century politics with Recount and Game Change. He brings the same biting wit and insight to Bombshell, which – along with Richard Jewell – is one of the most unnerving explorations of contemporary news. Of course, Bombshell is about much more than journalism.
The film primarily sets itself in 2016, months before Donald Trump was elected president and almost a year before #MeToo started making the rounds on social media. To say this was a more innocent time, however, would be painfully inaccurate. Fox News is just one of the many organizations where people were either turning a blind eye or blind to the truth. With Fox News founder Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), his female staffers came to accept his reputation for throwing doughnuts, gawking at legs, and holding private meetings. Anyone who called him into question would not only be out of a job, but out of a career as well. That is until several women came forward, proving that they had the louder voices.
Speaking of which, it’s hard to talk about Bombshell without bringing up The Loudest Voice, a Showtime miniseries starring Russell Crowe as Ailes. Where that series is all about Ailes, Bombshell belongs to the women who accused him of harassment. Charlize Theron gives an uncanny performance as Megyn Kelly, channeling her voice, delivery, and body language to a point that it’s almost scary. Theron portrays Kelly as an outspoken woman who’ll always remain composed during a debate. Underneath her straight face and stone-cold demeanor, however, Kelly’s about to crack over the backlash she’s been receiving from Trump devotees. Buried even deeper inside Kelly is a secret regarding her channel’s fearless leader.
Where Kelly is willing to play ball, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is much more open to rocking the boat at Fox News, especially since she seems to be on her way out. When Fox News inevitably gives her the boot, they’re unprepared for the bombshell Carlson is about to drop on them. As strong as Theron and Kidman are, nobody can distract from the film’s best performer, Margot Robbie. Taken under the wing and under the covers of a fellow Fox employee named Jess (Kate McKinnon), Robbie plays newbie reporter Kayla Pospisil. Although Pospisil isn’t based on one particular person, her story is one that speaks to several Fox News employees. In a Best Supporting Actress caliber performance, Robbie overwhelms the screen with wide-eyed optimism, which makes it all heartbreaking when those wide eyes cry a river of tears.
Screenwriter Charles Randolph previously co-wrote The Big Short and his voice is easy to point out in Bombshell. Like The Big Short, Bombshell is a film that’ll leave you feeling angry, but also feeling wiser and reinvigorated. Randolph’s knack for dialogue is well-complimented by Roach’s direction. Roach effectively uses his sets and costumes to paint Fox News as a welcoming environment. Behind all the colors and glamor, though, is a black room of despair. If you watch Fox News regularly, Bombshell might not do much to change your political stances. If you’re willing to listen, however, you may come to understand what happens when we blindly follow a controversial leader.