Film review: Bombshell an incendiary drama inspired by real-life Fox News scandal

Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie in Bombshell
Damon Smith

POWER taints and corrupts in Bombshell, director Jay Roach's provocative drama inspired by the real-life sexual harassment scandal which engulfed Fox News and precipitated the downfall of its chief executive Roger Ailes.

Screenwriter Charles Randolph, who shared the Oscar with Adam McKay for the whip-smart script to The Big Short, employs similar stylistic devices – characters breaking the fourth wall, pithy voice overs – to ricochet between the viewpoints of three women (two real, one fictional) with the urgency of a breaking news story.

It's incendiary entertainment punctuated by a few knockout scenes including a sickening audition in Ailes's office, which involves one naive employee tearfully hitching up her skirt to show her legs until her underwear is exposed because the CEO claims that TV news is "a visual medium".

Prosthetics and make-up facilitate Charlize Theron's startling transformation into Megyn Kelly, the fiercely outspoken commentator and anchor, who suffered venomous abuse after she berated Donald Trump for his treatment of women during the 2016 Republican debate.

Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie add fire to the film's gym-toned belly, the latter fully deserving her Oscar nomination with a powerhouse performance.

In 2016 Gretchen Carlson (Kidman), co-anchor of the morning news show Fox And Friends, meets with lawyers after she endures sexism in the workplace and is demoted to a graveyard slot in the station schedule.

She prepares to file a harassment suit against chief executive Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) and is confident other women in the company will support her version of events.

Instead, female co-workers wear Team Roger T-shirts and issue public statements of support for him.

"I jumped off a cliff. I thought one of them would stand with me," laments Gretchen to her legal team.

One of Fox News's most prominent anchors, Megyn Kelly (Theron), remains suspiciously quiet.

She confides in her team – executive producer Gil Norman (Rob Delaney), researcher Julia Clarke (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and assistant Lily Balin (Liv Hewson) – that she wants to support Gretchen but is reluctant to put her head above the parapet without the support of other colleagues.

Meanwhile, ambitious new arrival Kayla Pospisil (Robbie) worms her way into Ailes's inner sanctum to persuade him to put her on camera.

"I see myself as an influencer in the Jesus space," she coos, blissfully unaware of the Faustian pact she must strike in exchange for preferential treatment.

"I'm discreet," growls Ailes, "but unforgiving..."

Bombshell bristles with intent but doesn't always draw blood, delving only so far beneath the powdered and preened surface of a pervasive culture of exploitation.

Lithgow is deliciously loathsome as the leering puppet master, who professes his innocence until the bitter, bile-drenched end.

BOMBSHELL (15, 109 mins) Drama/Romance. Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Rob Delaney, Liv Hewson, Brigette Lundy-Paine. Director: Jay Roach.

RATING: 7.5/10

Released: January 17 (UK & Ireland)

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