I never thought I'd describe a film as "simultaneously disturbing and breezy", yet Bombshell is precisely that: a based-on-fact narrative about rampant sexual harassment at Fox News that somehow whizzes on by, its 108 runtime a half hour too short.
Taking place during the 2016 Republican primaries, Bombshell follows three Fox News employees: A-list anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron, spot on), B-list pundit Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman, ditto), and a fictitious up-and-comer named Kayla (Margot Robbie). After Carlson is ousted for airing one too many liberal-ish opinions on the conservative network, her memories of having been sexually harassed by Fox News patriarch Roger Ailes (John Lithgow in fat makeup) drive her to file a suit against Ailes himself, thus setting in motion a chain of events familiar to anyone who watches the news.
The film is crisply acted by its impressive ensemble, yet it skips along so quickly that, watching it, I kept feeling like I was missing something. The plot is simplicity itself: when will other female Fox News employees, chief among them Megyn Kelly, come forward with their own tales of being leered at – or worse – by Ailes? Yet you don't really get a sense of what it took to make that happen. It just kind of happens. So while Bombshell gives you a chance to cheer these brave women – conservative shills though they may be – for standing up against Fox News's intimidating Roger-Can-Do-No-Wrong culture, I would have liked to have spent more time digging into the key moments that actually brought Ailes down. (Bill O'Reilly, called out for his own abhorrent behavior in real life, is mostly shunted off to the side here; an atypical legal disclaimer at the beginning of Bombshell suggests that its producers had to dance around a few details in order to avoid lawsuits.)
Jay Roach, another helmer of broad comedies (Austin Powers, etc.) vying for dramatic credibility, doesn't fare as well as his contemporaries Todd Phillips and Adam McKay – Bombshell's documentary-style camera zooms and scattershot voiceovers and direct-to-camera addresses play out like affectations, and dated ones at that. But his pace is lively, his cast appealing, and despite the icky subject matter, I found his film both enjoyable and enlightening. While it doesn't live up to its potential, it still shines some light on a significant chapter in recent history.