"Bombshell" has a literate, fast-moving and yet profound script and an all-star cast acting out a morality tale that concerns every thinking American. It's a terrific movie. This movie is so good it actually surprised me. It didn't fall into the predictable traps I expected.
"Bombshell" is about Roger Ailes' sexual harassment of female talent at FOX news. Ailes' behavior is depicted as utterly repugnant. John Lithgow's Ailes is a disgusting, rotting hulk of a man, obese, bald, flabby, and reliant on a walker.
In a cringe-inducing scene, Ailes, a putrescent blob in a big chair, orders Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a naïve true-believer in FOX News, to lift her skirt higher so he can see her legs. Pospisil is wearing a miniskirt. She has to lift her skirt up over her underpants. As she does so, Ailes becomes aroused. The look on Kayla's face tells us that she is realizing what's going on, she recognizes that she's doing this for a job in TV, and she suddenly hates herself and everything that is happening.
But "Bombshell" takes a while to get to that scene. Before that scene, Ailes is shown as a stalwart support to female star Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron). He gives Kelly good advice and she is grateful to him. "Bombshell" doesn't demonize Ailes. Ailes is a fully rounded character. Surprising.
Megyn Kelly, similarly, is complex. She is a protagonist, but she's not perfect. When Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) speaks out about her sexual harassment, she hopes for support from other women at FOX. Support is slow to come. Though Ailes had harassed Kelly years before, Kelly is slow to come forward. She doesn't want to hurt her career, not just for her own sake, but for the sake of her family and her show's producers.
For a movie that moves this quickly to be so complex is a rare feat. The script was co-written by Charles Randolph, who won the Academy Award for co-writing "The Big Short" script. The film is co-written and directed by Jay Roach, who has received a slew of awards and nominations.
The cast just never stops. Just when you think you're already awash in big names giving award-worthy performances, Alison Janney pops up as Susan Estrich, Roger Ailes' attorney, and Malcolm McDowell walks in as Rupert Murdoch. Kate McKinnon shines in a small role. Actors depicting Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Geraldo Rivera, Harris Faulkner, Judge Jeannine Pirro and Kimberly Guilfoyle accessorize the sidelines.
The Kayla Pospisil character is a fictionalized composite of various accounts of how Ailes would sexually harass women. She is clearly young, naïve, and ambitious. She comes from an Evangelical family that worships FOX news and all it stands for. She wears a cross around her neck. She's also a lesbian. She's the only woman actually depicted giving in to Ailes' perversions.
Is the Kayla character a Christophobic one? In creating her, are script-writers Jay Roach and Charles Randolph implying that FOX news viewers are hypocrites? After all, Kayla is a lesbian but has taken sides with folks who condemn lesbians. Evangelicals, of course, value sexual purity, and she is the only female character depicted actually selling her body for airtime.
Or, are the scriptwriters not mocking FOX viewers, but highlighting how FOX viewers, often poor and working class, are cheated, duped, used and discarded – metaphorically f----- by men like Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, and Donald Trump? Men who cajole these masses into betraying the ideals represented by the crosses worn around their necks? I don't know the answer to that.