He may have started out as a guy known for the broadest of broad humor—helming the Austin Powers trilogy and the first two Meet the Parents films—but Jay Roach has since evolved into one of the more incisive contemporary directors, particularly when it comes to real-life, politically-tinged dumpster fires.

Like the one that burned through Fox News in 2016.

Bombshell follows in the footsteps of Roach’s earlier efforts, including 2008’s Recount and 2012’s Game Change for HBO, in offering a behind-the-curtain look at American history. This time, it’s through the eyes of three interconnected women, former Fox News anchors Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and based-in-reality, dewy-eyed newcomer Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a composite character drawn from a number of women at ground zero of the network’s sexual harassment scandal.

Written by Charles Randolph (who won an Oscar for 2015’s The Big ShortBombshell opens on the eve of the 2015 Republican Presidential Debate, with Kelly breaking the fourth wall and traipsing us through the Fox News headquarters to set the scene. Within hours, after pressing then-candidate Trump on his disparaging remarks about women, she becomes a news story herself and is forced to endure all manner of paparazzi ambushes, vitriolic emails, and Trump re-tweets.

At the same time, Carlson is tired of enduring the male chauvinistic newsroom and her insufferable on-air co-hosts, but her complaints get her kicked off her show and demoted to a worse timeslot. She then takes her concerns to an outside legal firm, outlining her accusations and announcing her intention to file a sexual harassment suit against Fox News head Roger Ailes (John Lithgow).

It’s Kayla, though, who is the face of the future at Fox News. A self-proclaimed evangelical millennial, all she wants is her big break and is convinced she’d be “frickin’ amazing” on air. When she gets five minutes alone to make her case with Ailes, however, she becomes yet another victim of the supremely predatory workplace, fueled by the lech in the corner office.

Randolph doesn’t pull any punches in laying out the toxicity of the Fox News hallways; you may find yourself alternating between a hope that the insidiousness has been exaggerated for effect and confidence that the reality may have indeed been much, much worse. Roach takes the razor-sharp script and runs with it, infusing the film with a delicate balance of humor (where appropriate), drama, and outright terror (the behind-closed-doors “audition” Kayla endures is one of the most horrifying scenes put on film this year).

As for the cast, Theron—with the help of prosthetics master Kazu Hiro (Darkest Hour)—becomes Kelly in every sense of the word, from not only hair and makeup but to her mannerisms and even her distinctive voice. It’s a transformation that alone is worth every award for which it qualifies. Beyond that, though, she expertly avoids simple mimicry to instead turn in a subtle and genuine performance. Robbie, however, may be even better, following up her top-notch work in July’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with riveting stuff here; her three minutes of fear and violation in “that scene” is now the gold standard for non-verbal acting.

Utterly inspirational and downright compelling (though often also entirely nauseating), Bombshell hits all its marks as it blows the roof off of the Fox News scandal with surgical precision. It will doubtful change anyone’s mind either way about the “fair and balanced” network, but that’s not really the point. This is about the women getting their moment and starting to turn the tide, and, powered by standout work from all involved, what a moment it is.


4.5/5 stars