Jay Roach, director of 2019’s “Bombshell,” has had an interesting career. He started directing in 1990 with an R-rated comedy titled “Zoo Radio.” Then, seven years later, Roach made a name for himself with the “Austin Powers” trilogy and later started another comedy franchise with “Meet the Parents” in 2000.
His career then took a sharp left into politically-charged TV movies for HBO. I’m a fan of Roach’s work for HBO, but as good as his films are, the performances seem false. For his film “Game Change” about the 2008 election, Roach worked with phenomenal actors such as Ed Harris, Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson. Still, he didn’t direct believable performances from this top-tier talent.
Regardless, Roach’s TV movies are entertaining because he captures the spirit of political events. He makes jargon sound more engaging and often finds a deeper side to his subjects.
Roach’s best work to date was “All the Way,” a film recounting President Lyndon B. Johnson’s experience after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. This film is an absolute masterwork from Roach, who perfectly directs Bryan Cranston as LBJ. The “Breaking Bad” actor never falls into caricature, and he presents the complicated nature of our 36th president. When I first saw “All the Way,” I immediately had to rewatch it because it was so powerful.
Roach’s “Bombshell” is a step down from his work on “All the Way,” but it’s still a compelling movie that presents the details of sexual harassment scandals behind the walls of Fox News. The film also has good performances from the lead actresses: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie.
“Bombshell” begins with a report presented by Megyn Kelly (Theron) about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, whose ex-wife accused him of raping her during their marriage. Kelly reports in this opening that his lawyer, Michael Cohen, defends him by saying that a person cannot rape his/her spouse while married. Kelly understandably takes issue with this position, but she is a host on Fox News, and that messaging doesn’t sit well with the head of the company, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow).
Ailes accuses Kelly of being a feminist, and she retorts by saying she’s not a feminist, she’s a lawyer. This line perfectly captures the attitude of the women in “Bombshell.” Their choice to take down Ailes after his decades of sexual harassment is not a feminist issue.
To them, it’s a crime that must be prosecuted, regardless of their femininity. That said, it will take an army of women to come forward to take down the Fox News giant, so there is a ring of feminism in their story regardless of Kelly’s intentions.
While “Bombshell” isn’t my favorite movie of Roach’s, I thought the film was engaging because he effectively reveals both Kelly and Gretchen Carlson’s (Kidman) hidden layers.
Roach proves with “Bombshell” that they were not the Barbie doll idiots that Ailes wanted on millions of television screens. Each had nuanced opinions and broke from the expected norm if they saw injustice or stupidity.
Roach also effectively makes Ailes an intriguing yet despicable figure in the film. He and the screenwriters acknowledge that the head of Fox News was intelligent and understood what sold on television by presenting his expertise in narration early in the film. However, those accomplishments, the television savvy, and the charismatic voice of Lithgow never blind the audience to Ailes’s disgusting behavior.
In one uncomfortable scene, Kayla Pospisil (Robbie), a composite character of real women at Fox News, is forced to lift her skirt so that her underwear is visible. This scene is made more unnerving because Lithgow is forceful and disturbing under all of the prosthetics.
Those prosthetics are created by a team that elevates this film from good to great. Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker do an incredible job with the film. The makeup for Ailes is extensive, and the details are beyond just making Lithgow look fatter than he is. The imperfections, wrinkles and age spots all make the makeup more believable.
Theron’s makeup, on the other hand, is more subtle but is still quite impressive. The actress doesn’t look identical to her Fox News doppelgänger, Kelly, but the two could easily pass as sisters. Kidman’s makeup works well enough but loses believability because Kidman and Carlson have different facial structures. Nevertheless, Kidman gives a fantastic performance.
Makeup successes and criticisms aside, “Bombshell” is an intriguing movie from beginning to end that has a story within it that needed to be told. Roach may have started his career with comedies, but he is deadly serious about presenting the real-world scandals that devastated the lives of the women of Fox News.