By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – December 20, 2019)
MeToo might be the definitive story of the last half-decade in America, alongside the Trump Administration and all that comes with it of course. We’ve seen the fall of some power brokers of power brokers, some of the biggest names in Hollywood, and yes, we saw the fall of one of the most influential minds in the history of media, Roger Ailes. This was the man who created and ran the Fox News Channel after assisting, among others both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in their successful campaigns. He has since passed away, and there were good and bad things said about him posthumously, but unquestionably, Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit and the fleet of other women at Fox who also backed up her claims with those of her own, changed how we’ll perceive him, how we’ll perceive Bill O’Reilly, and how we see the news media.
Matt Lauer would prove it wasn’t just Fox and it wasn’t just conservatives that are dirtbags. We’re all extremely flawed people, but the greater amount of power and authority you hold, the more it seems you’re conditioned to abuse it or become hopelessly addicted to its trappings. Though Bombshell is not Charles Randolph’s best script (he co-wrote The Big Short, which stands as my top movie of this decade), the Nashville native put together a pretty solid screenplay, though mired by being too on the surface. From a casting standpoint, the A-list came out in force.
Before we even get to the finer points of the movie, Charlize Theron put forth an Oscar-worthy performance as Megyn Kelly. That’s the first takeaway from the film, which also brings forth terrific work from Nicole Kidman as Carlson and Margot Robbie as Kayla Pospisil. The secondary cast is also outstanding, particularly John Lithgow’s Ailes, however I want to stop and mention one thing that has lingered in my mind for around a week now. Andy Levy, who used to host and be on the of the minds behind Red Eye, a 3 AM ET Fox News show that, along with O’Reilly, is what I found myself watching on Fox on a regular basis, tweeted out praise for Theron and then said everyone else comes across like what you would imagine a cartoon of Fox News to be, a set of caricatures, a group of over-the-top, unrealistic portrayals of, in most cases, real-life figures.
This stuck with me, because Levy was never a “Fox” guy, and he skewed more libertarian in a younger way, and if you follow him on Twitter, you’ll see just how unique he is in the media landscape, so much so that he basically vanished from it. To my knowledge, he has no axe to grind, but may have drifted away when his colleague Greg Gutfeld left Red Eye to move to more lucrative and visible time slots. These are just speculation from me, but Levy is someone I’ve always liked. He wouldn’t say this if it weren’t true in his eyes. I personally thought the performances ranged from pretty good to dead on, certainly Theron at the top of the list, but Levy made me sit back and consider it a little more.
What you expect this movie to do, it does, and very little else. Robbie has some stellar moments, particularly an uncomfortable sequence where she’s sexually harassed and forced to lift her skirt in a closed office, to where her underwear is showing for Ailes’ private titillation. She has the weightiest role, because Theron has to play Megyn Kelly the way we’ve always seen Megyn Kelly, as a very matter-of-fact, unflinching, almost calculating operator on camera and off. Thus, we don’t see her weeping at any point, even when she’s under fire following the tough line of questioning to then candidate Donald Trump in a 2016 debate.
Adam McKay isn’t associated with Bombshell, instead focusing on other projects, so Jay Roach produces and directs, and while he’s done some good stuff through the years, this is a different kind of movie, and it’s one that falls short of either The Big Short or Vice, despite feeling a little bit like both. I would be curious to have seen what McKay might have done, although Roach also employs some of the same ideas, like the multiple narrators, the visual additions, in this case a Fox News logo at the bottom left of the screen that burns into the picture for a few seconds to mimic what was happening to some people’s older model televisions that never turned FNC off.
Theron is the one that deserves a nomination most, but Robbie is perhaps the most effective performance of the movie, if only because of the vulnerability she showed as a character without any notoriety or power in the audience’s minds. We don’t know a thing about Kayla, so it’s a blank slate and Robbie can then emote in a different and much more palpable way than Charlize or Nicole. They’re all good though. As someone who watched a LOT of Fox up until the last four years or so, I bought most of the performances. And the next time Lithgow doesn’t deliver an affecting performance might be the first.
This movie is about Carlson’s suit against Roger Ailes, and although Kayla takes a job working for Bill O’Reilly, he barely appears in the film. That said, Kevin Dorff looked so much like O’Reilly it was hard to tell if it was even real or not. This was staggering to see on screen, uncanny resemblance, and I was disappointed there wasn’t more content involving that side of the equation. It makes me wonder if there just wasn’t much they felt they could get away with on Bill’s side, as he continues to vehemently deny virtually every claim against him. Plus, again, it was Ailes crumbling that was the sea change, although if you look in the news, you’ll see accusations indicating not much has changed, if you believe the stories that is.
Bombshell is good, but lacked depth that could have made it more than a retelling of things we already knew. Maybe there wasn’t much more there to try and plow, but the harvest seemed more incomplete and basic than I would have liked. Or maybe because it was told from an obvious angle, rather than something a bit more risky or unique, it just felt a little too on the nose without a sense of art behind it. I’m left wondering which people in the movie Randolph or Roach actually liked or respected. Kelly has been decimated in the wake of her NBC failure and the Alex Jones interview, and she was never endearing to the left that controls the movie industry. However, she’s not destroyed in Bombshell. It feels fair.
I enjoyed it, the running time flew by, and the performances are worth the price of admission, even thinking of Levy’s critiques I’m still left impressed by all three leads, as well as John Lithgow. Theron should be nominated for an Academy Award, as should Robbie, and Kidman was solid. I could see all three getting nods, but I don’t expect a Best Picture nom or a Director nom for Roach. Charles Randolph’s screenplay may get a nod, but won’t win. It’s the performances that carry and often overshadow everything else about Bombshell, which didn’t give us any new information, but told what we DO know, or what we have heard, pretty well.