‘Bombshell’ is fake news

Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman in Bombshell

“I believe in only two things completely: the first amendment, and boobs.” – Clay Travis

Those words were actually spoken on CNN, but Bombshell posits that many over at its competitor Fox News share the sentiment. While a valiant effort in bringing these issues to attention, it’s not nearly as hard-hitting as it could have been.

It starts at the point in time when Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) publicly questions then-candidate Donald Trump about his past remarks on women (though for whatever reason, his actual response is not shown). Facing huge viewer backlash as a result, she has to try to walk things back as much as she can so that the network might stay in the frontrunner’s good graces. It might already be too late though, as the public perception of her has changed drastically.

Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is running a show of her own, but promotes somewhat left-leaning views and has had enough of her co-workers’ sexist behaviors. She is working with lawyers (Robin Weigert and Stephen Root) to bring a lawsuit against the network, though they aren’t ready to proceed just yet. Keeping her head down, she gets by as well as she can, yet senses trouble ahead.

Kayla (Margot Robbie) was formerly a staffer for Carlson before jumping ahead to Bill O’Reilly (Kevin Dorff). But she has even higher ambitions and before long catches the eye of network boss Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). The lecherous old slob is willing to give her the chance to pitch herself, as long as he gets something in return.

Never heard of Kayla? There’s a good reason for that: she doesn’t exist. That headline wasn’t just being cute, the film really does feature actual fake news. Well okay, she’s a “composite character” meant to reflect the experiences of past employees. But still, they left themselves wide open for that one.

It’s also just too silly at times. The fourth wall breaks and interior monologues really dilute the seriousness to the tone, as does shoving in notable actors for two-second appearances as other figures of the channel. Trying to digest what’s going on turns into a game of “Is that who I think it is?”

Nevertheless, when it’s on point, it is effective. The three protagonist actresses are phenomenal; Theron and Kidman (though more so the former) pull off impressive embodiments of these known personalities, while Robbie portraying an opportunist who gets in way over her head is better here than how she’s done it before. It’s from her later scenes that the pathos of this character come through.

While an excellent job was done getting Theron to resemble Kelly, it only makes the other parts where the actors weren’t made up as well or just do not look it more blatant. This film’s Rudy Giuliani (Richard Kind) could maybe be passable on Saturday Night Live, but here, especially when footage of the real Giuliani is also shown, it does not fly. Lithgow is nowhere near the finely textured turn by Russell Crowe in The Loudest Voice. Malcolm McDowell fits Rupert Murdoch quite well (he did already basically play this part on Law & Order: Criminal Intent), though he’s really only there at the very end.

In trying its hand at the kind of thing Dick Wolf has been doing for 30 years, Bombshell is far from the optimal way for this material to be tackled. A greater degree of seriousness and closer adherence to the truth would really have helped this examination go more than prosthetics deep.

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