In Jay Roach’s Bombshell, Charlize Theron’s portrayal of Megyn Kelly continues her streak of being the best performer in whatever movie she’s offered. Not that she doesn’t have some pretty solid competition, as Nicole Kidman, John Lithgow, and Margot Robbie are by no means slackers. It’s just that in this fact-inspired film which tells how Fox News C.E.O. Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) fell from grace (which also exposed on the toxic work culture for the females at Fox) is much the better for her presence. The story is certainly timely, as Fox News celebrity Megyn Kelly (more recently in the news over some controversial comments of her own) first has to contend with a public firestorm that occurs after she moderates a Republican Presidential debate in 2015 and is insulted by then-candidate Donald Trump. Initially an enraged Roger Ailes has her back (he proclaims that loyalty is paramount with him) but his loyalty to her only goes so far. And when another host Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) deigns to utter sentences contrary to what’s engraved in the Fox folio, she finds herself out of a job—however Carlson strikes back with a lawsuit aimed at Ailes and the abuse which had free reign under his rule. The hopeful Carlson believes there will be others, both past and present Fox female employees who will join her—namely Kelly. Yet Kelly is initially reluctant—after all Ailes had supported her in the past and seems supportive now.
Enter Margot Robbie as Kayla Pospisil (don’t look for her in Wikipedia, she is a composite character), young, attractive, ambitious; she snags an intro to Ailes, where she finds out what the score is concerning prospective female anchors and the possibility of television exposure. The scene itself is an unsettling one—all the more so because of the subtle, understated playing of both Robbie and Lithgow (for whose character asking a female to “lift her skirt” is business as usual). Eventually the paths of the three female protagonists converge, and there is a fairly satisfying reckoning. Kidman does a good job as Carlson though the film doesn’t offer that much to do, and Robbie is fine as what is basically a symbol of all the women who felt they had to give in to a powerful man in order to further their careers. Theron does some exceptional, textured work as Kelly: confident, brittle, sensitive, ambitious, caustic and unafraid—except when she isn’t.
However, while the film is generally entertaining, the script (by Charles Randolph of The Big Short) doesn’t really mine below the surface. There are some isolated scenes that carry emotional heft (such as a late encounter between Kelly and a relocated anchor (Jennifer Morrison), and a few that have real power (besides the aforementioned Kayla/Ailes encounter). However, Bombshell could use a few more layers and a bit more incisiveness to become the important film it yearns to be.