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Review: Based on the real-life drama at Fox News, 'Bombshell' explodes on the screen

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

"Bombshell" is exploding at just the right moment. A ferociously entertaining dramatization of how an unlikely group of women exposed and deposed media titan Roger Ailes, it is as harrowing as it is triumphant in its depiction of the way it all came to pass.

This is not the first drama about workplace sexual harassment (don't miss 2018's superb Israeli "Working Woman") but it is the one that will have the most impact, in part because of the double meaning of its title.

For, witness 1933's "Bombshell," an inside-Hollywood satire starring the glamorous Jean Harlow, the word once referred to attractive women. And because the new "Bombshell" focuses on on-camera Fox News personalities, it gives rich parts to no less than three splendid actresses: Charlize Theron (who also produced), Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie.

Also central to the film's accomplishment is the collaboration of two men who've had individual success turning complex current-events material into involving cinema but have never collaborated before.

Engaged first was writer Charles Randolph, winner of an Oscar for "The Big Short," who has written a smart, fast-moving script that feels behind-the-scenes real, a scenario that will both make you laugh and cause the laughter to freeze in your throat.

Director Jay Roach, who began in comedies, has done several richly involving political dramas, including "Recount," about the Bush/Gore imbroglio, and the Emmy-winning "Game Change," about Sarah Palin.

 

His direction here is sharp and purposeful, the result of Roach knowing exactly what film he wanted to make and just how to make it. Alternately enjoyable and disquieting, "Bombshell" may sound self-congratulatory but it is anything but. What we see of what was experienced under Ailes' malign rule is too disturbing for that.

Intent on getting and holding our attention, "Bombshell" starts with a bravura moment. It's Aug. 6, 2015, just hours before the first Republican presidential debate, and after we see top Fox personality Megyn Kelly (Theron) read an incendiary item about candidate Donald Trump, the frame freezes and Kelly says in voice-over, "Here's the one thing you probably know about me: I have a big mouth."

Next follows a kind of Cook's tour of Fox's New York headquarters, with Kelly, aided by Barry Ackroyd's superbly mobile cinematography, walking us around and filling us in on who's who and what's where with breaking-the-fourth-wall glee.

This initial visit to what we will come to see as a kind of hell ("She is our Dante," Randolph has said) emphasizes the film's verisimilitude in both surroundings (credit production designer Mark Ricker, who worked inside the former Los Angeles Times offices in downtown L.A. to re-create Fox News) and costumes (four-time Oscar winner Colleen Atwood).

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