With wild tonal shifts and a confusing message, Bombshell muddles a powerful story. But its quartet of great performances keeps it from being a complete misfire.
Charlize Theron delivers another chameleonic performance as Megyn Kelly, the most important female anchor on Fox News. She looks and sounds just like her. The film spends much of the first hour establishing her feud with Donald Trump and her reluctance to speak up when she's objectified. Nicole Kidman is terrific as usual as Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox & Friends co-host who files a lawsuit against founder Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) for sexual harassment, but finds herself more alone than ever before. And Margot Robbie plays Kayla, a composite character, standing in for the dozens of women violated by Ailes.
But that's about it for great acting in the film. There's a massive cast, but their performances range from solid-but-forgettable (Malcolm McDowell as Rupert Murdoch) to downright terrible (Richard Kind as Rudy Giuliani). Because the film can't decide on a tone, some scenes are cartoonish and others deadly serious, and the cast follows suit. Some actors are trying to craft compelling characters, and others are just delivering subpar impressions. (And in one unnerving scene, Bill O'Reilly's head is CGI'd onto an actor's body.)
Bombshell's fatal flaw, though, is in asserting that Fox News' only problem is that Roger Ailes is a pervert. The channel's purpose as a racist and xenophobic propaganda machine is barely touched on. Any proper exposé of this conservative institution can't just gloss over that. In one scene, the film attempts to hold Megyn Kelly's feet to the fire for her complicity as a higher-up in the network, but veers close to victim-blaming at the same time.
But in fleeting moments, the movie is great. Megyn Kelly's direct address to the audience, explaining the inner workings of Fox News, harkens back to what writer Charles Randolph did so well in The Big Short. But it doesn't work when other characters try it. And the initial interview between Kayla and Ailes is tense and uncomfortable, as it should be.
Like last year's Vice, Bombshell represents a real missed opportunity. There's nothing as insulting as the former's post-credits scene, but it doesn't take an intellectual to realize this story is incomplete.