Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Allison Janney, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell
Director: Jay Roach
In 2016 a bomb went off at Fox News. The right-wing conservative news network had been the bastion of Republican values and even far-right sentiment under the helm of media mogul Roger Ailes. But then, as the #Metoo Movement began to gather steam, allegations against the CEO rocked the network to its core. Last year saw Russell Crowe take on the role in TV series The Loudest Voice, but now director Jay Roach has brought the story to the big screen, which has been nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Charlize Theron and Best Supporting Actress for Margot Robbie.
News anchor Megyn Kelly (Theron) is one of Fox News’ most popular anchors. She is set to host the 2016 Republican debate and is flying high in her career, but in her past she is hiding a secret. In her early years at the station, she was sexually harassed by CEO Roger Ailes (Lithgow). Unaware that others have been subject to the same treatment, each woman hides their secret in silence until declining star Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) is fired for preaching female empowerment on air. Within days, she makes her own allegations public and the floodgates slowly creak open. Meanwhile, Kayla (Robbie) is new to the network and trying to find her feet within it. Summoned to Ailes’ office to meet him, she witnesses first-hand his process for promoting women.
This film is attempting to be the film that rides the crest of the #Metoo Movement to Oscar glory. Unfortunately, this is not that film. While perfectly enjoyable and compelling entertainment, it doesn’t quite get the tone right for a film with a social message. It’s a film about sexual harassment that talks a lot about it but shows very little evidence of it. It’s almost like it’s embarrassed about its own subject, which makes it seem – at surface value – like a storm in a teacup. If anything, it undermines the seriousness of the climate at Fox, as well as the crimes of Roger Ailes. Lithgow is cantankerous as the dangerous CEO, but seems almost cartoonlike in his mood swings, which seem more pathetic from an ailing old man than symptomatic of the power this heavyweight possessed. Crowe’s Ailes had clout behind him; Lithgow’s does not.
For the most part, we are following Megyn Kelly. Seemingly this is because she is the most well-known face of its real-life cast of characters, but she actually has a lesser part of the story. Theron is fantastic in the role, but the role itself seems to distract from the real storyline, which comes from Kidman’s Gretchen Carlson. In fact, writer Gabriel Sherman (who penned ‘The Loudest Voice In The Room’ on which the TV show was based) said "Megyn Kelly was a peripheral participant in Ailes’ downfall. It was Gretchen Carlson… who drove the events that led to Ailes' ouster...By the time [Kelly] spoke to investigators, Ailes’ fate had been sealed. Any dramatisation that makes her a central character in Ailes' takedown is pure fiction." Subsequently the film is prefaced with a disclaimer to this end, which makes it feel like its pandering to the star power of a character barely relevant to the story.
Also, the film has difficulties in determining its own opinions on Fox. In its attempts not to offend Conservative America, there has been definite effort made to restrain itself from passing judgement on the wildly biased standpoint of what is known internationally to be an organisation that sits hand in glove with the extreme right of the Republican Party. But then there’s also the attempts to appease Liberal America with its placing of a lesbian character (McKinnon) at the firm and seeing Kayla post-coital with her without any acknowledgement of what has come before. The latter had been posed as an Evangelical Christian, so this curveball seems odd with its casual dropping into the narrative and somewhat unconvincing. It’s almost like these characters’ sexualities are being used to wave a big white flag while screaming “Look! We’re not all bigots at Fox!”
However, there are plenty of elements to celebrate in this eminently watchable movie. Alongside Theron, Robbie is painlessly likeable and Kidman gets some sparkling small-screen moments that hark back to her To Die For days. Janney is intense – if a little underused – while Malcolm McDowell’s Rupert Murdoch (the owner of Fox) is a scene-stealing cameo in the final act. The chaos of the newsroom when the proverbial poo finally hits the fan is enthralling to watch, while seeing just how in denial so many people were is fascinating. It’s pacey, vibrant and high-gloss, but if you really want something to sink your teeth into, maybe go for The Loudest Voice instead.
OUT NOW IN CINEMAS, RELEASED BY LIONSGATE.