Charlize Theron and John Lithgow in Bombshell (category: IIB), directed by Jay Roach and also starring Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie. Photo: Handout
Charlize Theron and John Lithgow in Bombshell (category: IIB), directed by Jay Roach and also starring Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie. Photo: Handout

Review |
Bombshell film review: Charlize Theron plays Fox News’ Megyn Kelly in captivating sexual harassment drama

  • Set in the offices of US TV channel Fox News, Bombshell is based on the real-life sexual harassment case that took down the network’s chairman
  • Also starring Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie and John Lithgow, the film is a timely, absorbing drama that sets you on edge and won’t let go until the end
Topic |   American films
Charlize Theron and John Lithgow in Bombshell (category: IIB), directed by Jay Roach and also starring Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie. Photo: Handout
Charlize Theron and John Lithgow in Bombshell (category: IIB), directed by Jay Roach and also starring Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie. Photo: Handout

4/5 stars

A pre-MeToo drama of sexual harassment, Bombshell serves as a potent reminder that it’s not just on the casting couch where women have come under threat.

Set between 2015 and 2016 in the offices of US TV channel Fox News, the film follows three women: rising star Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), veteran anchorwoman Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and newcomer Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie).

Scripted by Charles Randolph, who won an Oscar for
The Big Short
, Bombshell vividly depicts the culture of fear these women, and others, worked in. This trio might operate in close proximity, but the isolation they feel is palpable. Witness the moment when all three ride the lift, a rare coming together for the main cast. Director Jay Roach plays it out almost wordlessly and the silence speaks volumes.

With the Trump election campaign bubbling away in the background, the villain of the piece is Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), the aged and overweight Fox News chairman and CEO. The hardbitten Ailes demands his female anchorwomen wear short skirts to increase ratings, though it’s behind closed doors where the real trouble occurs.

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The most uncomfortable scene comes as the ambitious but naive Kayla (a composite character of various real women’s experiences) is summoned to Ailes’ office.

Without actually touching her, he makes her feel utterly used and humiliated, as he encourages her to hitch up her skirt gradually in front of him. Robbie is mesmerising in what is a career highlight.

Margot Robbie (left) and Kate McKinnon in Bombshell. Photo: Handout
Margot Robbie (left) and Kate McKinnon in Bombshell. Photo: Handout
The film is directed with terrific pace by Roach, who has recently made a smooth transition from the comedy of his early career (Austin Powers, Meet The Parents) to harder-hitting dramas like
Trumbo
. This draws on all his powers, and his use of comedy specialists (Kate McKinnon, Rob Delaney) in small but potent roles is telling.

Much of the attention will fall on Theron as Kelly, who was instrumental in bringing Ailes down.

(From left) Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie in Bombshell. Photo: Handout
(From left) Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie in Bombshell. Photo: Handout
Kazuhiro Tsuji, the make-up artist who won an Oscar for turning Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in 2017’s
Darkest Hour
, does a terrific job in turning Theron into the former news anchor – the actress virtually melts away, though the focus shouldn’t just be Tsuji’s work.

Theron is excellent as Kelly, offering a steely performance as a woman who refuses to lie down.

Charlize Theron and Liv Hewson in Bombshell. Photo: Handout
Charlize Theron and Liv Hewson in Bombshell. Photo: Handout

With Theodore Shapiro’s nervy Philip Glass-like score humming away in the background – a fine complement to the quick-fire dialogue – Bombshell sets you on edge and won’t let go until it concludes. The result is a timely and absorbing drama.

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