There are workplaces where a meeting with the boss is a great thing: a chance to plan projects, learn valuable lessons, maybe get appreciated for what you do.
It was a little different at Fox News when Roger Ailes ruled the roost. Women called into Ailes’ office might understandably dread the experience, as the predator-in-chief was capable of overt sexual harassment or gross mind games.
This behavior, well-documented in a series of books, magazine articles and lawsuits (Fox has paid out tens of millions to settle harassment cases), gets another airing in “Bombshell,” an all-star movie. The focus here is not on Ailes, who died in 2017, but on some of his top employees.
Three women carry the story: nighttime anchor Megyn Kelly (played by Charlize Theron, who also produced the film), morning-show host Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and a composite character, played by Margot Robbie, who represents the dilemma of an ambitious young woman at the start of her career. Unfortunately, she’s Roger’s type.
Screenwriter Charles Randolph (an Oscar winner for “The Big Short”) weaves together an account of Carlson’s 2016 sexual-harassment lawsuit with Kelly’s slow-burning decision to bolster Carlson’s claims by talking about her own creeped-out encounters with Ailes.
In the midst of all that, Kelly gets on the wrong side of the GOP nominee-to-be after she asks hard-nosed questions at a 2015 Republican debate. When Donald Trump declares that Kelly “had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” he makes her the story.
Ailes is played by John Lithgow, under a mass of prosthetic makeup. As you might expect, Lithgow is skillful at bringing this powerful figure to life — and even making him pathetic rather than merely monstrous.
The supporting cast is decorated with snappy people, including Allison Janney as Ailes lawyer Susan Estrich, Malcolm McDowell as Fox owner Rupert Murdoch and “SNL” star Kate McKinnon as a Fox employee swept up in the paranoid corporate culture.
The lead actresses are all convincing, and Theron in particular captures Kelly’s lethal manner, which always suggested someone ready to throw down in a street fight with the razor blade she had hidden in her mouth.
The movie sets up a weird dynamic: While we absolutely root for the Fox women in their legal action, we can’t quite forget that they’ve made a fortune by serving up Ailes’ incendiary views for years. That’s a complicated formula, and director Jay Roach (who did the “Austin Powers” films before turning to political material like “Game Change”) can’t really pull it off.
If you were paying attention during these times, “Bombshell” doesn’t illuminate much, except to allow good actors to animate the headlines. It has moments that connect, like the look on Robbie’s face when she realizes her journalistic dreams are directly related to Ailes’ desire to see her underwear.
There’s also a movie to be made of the gatekeeper (Holland Taylor) who sits outside Ailes’ office door, waving in the visitors. She knows what’s happening in there, but participates in a sick system. The frauds and monsters in positions of power deserve exposure — and so do the enablers sitting at the door.
“Bombshell” (2½ stars)
This account of the sexual-harassment epidemic at Fox News doesn’t really illuminate much of its sordid story, although the actors are in strong form. Charlize Theron plays Megyn Kelly, watchfully observing the lawsuit by Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) against Fox predator-in-chief Roger Ailes (John Lithgow); Margot Robbie co-stars.
Rating: R, for language, subject matter
Opening Friday: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Marysville, Meridian, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall