Short Takes: Bombshell

(Jay Roach, Canada/US, Lionsgate, December 20)

Bombshell presents the spectacular downfall of Roger Ailes, chairman/CEO of Fox News, following a cascade of sexual harassment claims—a full year before the Weinstein story broke. Gretchen Carlson filed a complaint against Ailes in July 2016; Megyn Kelly eventually admitted that she, too, had been harassed. Featuring Charlize Theron as Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Carlson, and Margot Robbie as “Kayla” (a composite), Bombshell, directed by Jay Roach with a screenplay by Charles Randolph (The Big Short), has a nervous ripped-from-the-headlines energy.

Theron is excellent, but the choice to use prosthetics, rendering her unrecognizable, is baffling. Kidman is simultaneously fragile and steely, and Robbie, as an “evangelical millennial” employee, is wide-eyed to the point of unreality. Filling out the superb cast is John Lithgow as Ailes, Mark Duplass as Kelly’s husband, Connie Britton as Ailes’s wife, and Kate McKinnon as Jess, a lesbian producer at Fox and a secret Hillary Clinton supporter who befriends Kayla.

Deep at points but paper-thin at others, the film skips over questions of complicity, and pulls some of its punches, especially politically. But it’s still an engaging look at life behind the scenes of one of the weirdest workplaces in existence, and what really comes across is the diseased “groupthink” of the culture at Fox. Crackling with potshots at Fox’s clown car of on-air talent (Greta Van Susteren, Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro), Bombshell is most interesting when it is most ambiguous.—Sheila O’Malley