Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), host of Fox News’ popular Fox & Friends morning show hates how her two male cohosts belittle her and dismiss her opinions. When she complains, she’s replaced and moved to her own show at the relatively dead time slot of 4pm.
The rules at Fox News are clear: Women wear short sheath dresses, giggle at the boys and keep on message. If network head Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) asks you to his second-floor office, you do what he says.
Sometimes listening to Ailes means letting a presidential candidate’s behavior slide. Other times it means displaying your loyalty by providing him sexual favors on demand. Everyone knows how the game works; no one says anything about it. Until Carlson’s contract isn’t renewed.
Furious and fed up with the Boys Club mentality, Carlson sues Ailes for sexual harassment. Fox men interpret the suit as an attack on the network, conservatism and all that is good in the world. Fox women are at first quiet, then defend Ailes and the culture of Fox News.
Will the network’s most popular anchor, Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) risk her career by joining the fray?
This movie about the real lawsuit that toppled one of the most influential conservatives in American politics isn’t so much an explosion as a burnout. Director Jay Roach (Trumbo) is unclear on what he’s up to. Bombshell starts out as a smug satire, with characters addressing the audience directly. By its end, it’s an inspirational feminism flick, with a woman hitting above her weight to solve sexual harassment. Sort of. Neither tone works.
The result is a disjointed film that serves no story well. It also fails to question whether the traditional values lionized by the network are at all to blame for the boys-will-be-boys mentality that pervaded the workplace. It also has enough stunt casting to seem like an SNL sketch.
It gets some things right. The ideal of a Fox News Woman is explored hilariously in a sequence in the wardrobe department. Blondes and brunettes hop into Spanx and high heels among the racks of jewel-toned short sheaths. All have the same hair and makeup. All are on their phones assuring reporters they’re allowed to wear pants at work — they just don’t want to. Showing off their legs at clear desks has nothing to do with Ailes.
For a movie about women taking down a powerful figure in modern media, this one doesn’t give its actresses much to do. Kidman is stuck in a blonde wig on an exercise bike for most of the movie. Theron does an eerily accurate take on Kelly, but her story — whether she’ll report Ailes — is hardly uplifting. Only Margot Robbie — who plays a character invented to combine real stories in the scandal — develops emotionally. Even her composite character gets a silly Hollywood ending that seems ripped from a conservative TV version of Working Girl.
Who is Bombshell going to satisfy? If you love Fox News, chances are you’re not lining up to buy a ticket. If you find the network a source of misinformation, this tonally odd film isn’t going to satisfy your hope of a takedown. For the real story, check out The Loudest Voice in the Room, a book that’s cheaper than a movie ticket and features a better, more accurate view of Fox’s culture.
Fair Drama R • 108 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Adapting the musical Cats to the big screen is a challenge. The tale of a group of cats competing to be reincarnated (or commit suicide, if you subscribe to the more morbid reading of the themes) and leave their miserable lives behind is pretty weird. The costumes are great to look at, and there’s that song everyone knows.
Director Tom Hooper has replaced the musical’s tried-and-true costuming with human-cat hybrids that look as though they’ve been dredged from the depths of Tumblr. These CGI nightmares manage to make Idris Elba look creepy, which is a marvel of modern filmmaking.
Prospects: Terrifying • PG • 102 mins.
A Hidden Life
In a small mountain village in Austria, Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) raises his family on his farm amid hard work, laughter and a breathtaking landscape.
World War II transforms Franz’s idyllic life when he’s recruited to join the Nazi army. Refusing both military service and conscientious objection, he is thrown in prison, tortured and tried.
While Franz suffers, his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) faces the scorn of the village, which has branded her husband a coward.
Director Terrence Malick is in love with nature and how humans relate to it. In this film, he explores how religion, nature and humanity work together to create beauty. For the holidays, he gives us a beautiful and relevant story about a deeply faithful man who chooses persecution over moral compromise. If you’re looking for an inspiration, this is worth the ticket.
Good Drama • PG-13 • 174 mins.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
With the First Order closing in, the last remnants of the Rebel Alliance fight one last time for freedom in a galaxy far, far, away.
The final trilogy in the franchise has given Star Wars to a new generation, telling the stories of Force-sensitive Rey (Daisy Ridley), storm-trooper-turned-rebel-fighter Finn (John Boyega) and brash pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac). This, the last of the last, wraps up with rollicking adventure.
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 141 mins.