Available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy, Bombshell uses real news footage mixed with actor portrayals to tell the story of how the women of Fox News exposed Roger Ailes’ serial sexual harrassment. Before the film even begins, there are disclaimers from the distributor, Lionsgate Films, about the viewpoints expressed in the film (not necessarily those of the distributor) as well as another blurb before movie starts about real people and events being portrayed by actors. But after that legalese is out of the way, Bombshell takes an unflinching look at the goings-on behind the scenes at Fox and Megyn Kelly’s slow trajectory to join Ailes’ other accusers – a step which finally tips the scale in favor of the victims.
The story is told primarily from Megyn Kelly’s (Charlize Theron, also a producer) viewpoint, as she introduces the viewer to the world of Fox News:
“Early on he [Ailes] realized for a network to stay on 24 hours a day you need something to hold an audience. That something is legs. There’s a reason for clear desks.”
Bombshell covers many of Megyn’s best-known on-air moments, most notably her interaction with Donald Trump at the August 6, 2015 Republican debate. The film implies that someone in power at Fox, or in Trump’s campaign, spiked her coffee to prevent her from going up against him on air. That well-known interchange, where she said to him, “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals” resulted in Trump’s predictable and relentless attacks the next day on Twitter. Kelly seems less concerned at first with the attacks than “being the story.”
The culture of harrasment is depicted as being widespread at Fox News – many women’s paths forward were contingent on the trading of sexual favors, and they felt enormous pressure to comply. There are lots of subtle misogynistic moments – the blinds being lowered in an office during an interview, Ailes’ personal secretary’s (Holland Taylor) knowing look at an ambitious young woman who has been invited to “meet” with Roger, attacks on Kelly’s looks post Trump interview (“You see how her nostrils flare? She used to be pretty”).
Kelly comes off, to the audience and to those around her, as an unreliable narrator. She is career-driven and has perfected the art of looking the other way to Ailes’ and other’s behavior. Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is the righteous crusader. When she is fired by Fox for “likability” issues, she gets the ball rolling against Ailes by filing a harrasment lawsuit. In the meantime, the fictionalized Kayla (Margot Robbie, playing an amalgam of the many woman assaulted by Ailes) is just getting to know the big boss himself (John Lithgow). Kayla’s greatest dream and ambition is to be an anchor at Fox. She tells her bosom buddy Jess (Kate McKinnon), a self-described closet liberal, closet lesbian, that Fox News is her family’s church.
Director Jay Roach is known for comedy (Austin Powers films, Meet the Parents) and more recently, politically-themed films (Recount, Game Change). The film was written by Charles Randolph (The Interpreter, The Big Short). Bombshell has a few humorous moments, mainly courtesy of Kate McKinnon’s Jess, but it is primarily a docu-drama. Jess’s breakdown of what makes a Fox story is brilliant: “You have to adopt the mentality of an Irish street cop: the world is a bad place, people are lazy morons, minorities are criminals, sex is sick but interesting. Ask yourself, what would scare my grandmother or piss off my grandfather? And that’s a Fox story.”
Besides the clear desks and shorter skirts that Ailes preferred, in private meetings in his office he would ask women to “spin” and “twirl” for him, citing television as a visual medium – just step one in his breaking down of barriers to enable his sexual advances and demands. His assault is psychological as well as sexual. At their first meeting, he asks Kayla to twirl, and then repeatedly requests that she lifts her skirt, higher and higher, until she reveals her underpants. The scene is disturbing not just for its prurient nature but because it is so humiliating. A demand to perform. The audience can feel Kayla’s unease, and every woman who has ever felt “Me, too” in the workplace and the world can relate.
Kelly is shown to have a congenial relationship with Ailes. When he put the inevitable moves on her, she was able to shrug it off – at least that is the story she tells. On the contrary, Gretchen Carlson decides to strike back at the toxic culture at Fox News after being fired – she decides to sue Roger Ailes personally for sexual harrassment. This eventually brings down Ailes and puts the entire network on high alert. All three actresses are very good, but Bombshell doesn’t really let the audience get to know Gretchen as it does Kelly and Kayla. Maybe those pesky disclaimers at the film’s beginning have something to do with that.
Once Ailes is accused Kelly still hesitates and hesitates, weighing her options, claiming to like Roger while also finally admitting to those around her that he harrassed her, too, long ago.
“I refuse to be the #@%^& poster girl for sexual harrassment.”
Almost everyone in Bombshell is complicit – in the culture, in the spin they know they are spinning. It may not result in many sympathetic characters, apart from Kayla, but Bombshell is fascinating to watch. And sadly, just one of many similar stories that are slowly coming to light.
Special features include:
- “No Easy Truths: The Making of Bombshell,” a seven-part documentary
- Theatrical trailer
- Previews: for I Still Believe, Knives Out, The Favor, Angel of Mine, The Farewell
- Video resolution: In color, 1080p high definition, with an aspect ratio of 16×9 (2.39:1)
- Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio
- Subtitles: English descriptive audio, Spanish subtitles, English and French SDH
- Run time: 108 minutes, Rated R