Forget the fake news, it's the fake faces that shine in the movie Bombshell, which like the TV series, The Loudest Voice (Neon) delves into the recent past. The setting is the sexual abuse scandal that rocked Fox News in 2016. It stars Charlize Theron who shines from behind an expertly applied layer of sculpted latex. She gives a near-perfect rendition of the voice and mannerisms of Fox News' most well known woman, Megyn Kelly. Even if you've never watched Fox you may know her from a news cycle that involved her menstrual cycle.
In 2015 she famously asked Donald Trump some reasonable questions during the Republican primary race and received a return gift of a famously unreasonable response. Even today, familiar as we are with Trump's catalogue of unruly outbursts, this one takes the bleeding cake.
During the debate Trump had some of his "salty" comments about women — "fat pigs", "dogs", etc — quoted back to him by Kelly. Trump, who assumed that Fox would go easy on him fumed after the encounter and tweeted up a storm into the early hours. He then responded a few days later with a phone call to Fox News, in which he decided Kelly's impertinence had a menstrual basis, or as he put it, "you could see blood coming out of her eyes, coming out of her wherever". Kelly was defended by all manner of sane people including her old foes, the lefties, who see Fox as the broadcast partner to Satan and all his works.
But make no mistake, Kelly is no Kim Hill, her foray into asking the Don some "tough questions" was not her usual M.O.
Not long after she was vilified by her new-found defenders for opining that Santa should always be white, just like Jesus was. In the Fox world, this is not even close to being a faux pas but it became a rallying point for Fox haters and the more socially "aware", who went back to hating her. Perhaps the thing that made Megyn seem almost reasonable on Fox was how dribblingly insane most of the other hosts are. A one-eyed queen in a land of the blind, and all that.
John Lithgow's Ailes tells us: "The news is a ship, if you take your hands off the wheel, it pulls to the left."
It probably helps, if like me, you've seen way too much Fox News. I first found myself bingeing to gloat-watch when Obama was on the rise and then again for that run up to Trump's victory at the primaries and the election that followed. But fear not, the film provides a helpful and swift backgrounder at the beginning of proceedings if you aren't familiar with the territory.
Fox News became such a hit for the same reasons much of Murdoch's media empire has, and its recipe is nicely boiled down in the film. The stuff that works is the stuff that terrifies your grandmother and enrages your grandfather. "Titillate and frighten" is the real mantra, rather than the official one, "fair and balanced".
Of the latter, seen by many as one of the great jokes of modern media, an explanation is offered by a young conservative staffer before she suffers at the hands of Roger Ailes, who indeed frightens her as he amuses himself. "Fair", she reckons, refers to the general news coverage (fires, floods, murders) while the "balance" is provided by the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity and the other frothing bullies with the reddest of necks who make Hosking and Richardson look like Chloe Swarbrick. Balance? How that concept flies, she says, is that because so much of the media landscape is filled with left-leaning bed-wetters, the extreme views of the fox opinionators provides that "balance".
Or as John Lithgow's Ailes tells us: "The news is a ship, if you take your hands off the wheel, it pulls to the left."
Lithgow is great but it's Margot Robbie who threatens to steal the show. She's the just-mentioned "conservative staffer" but this is not an impersonation of a real Foxer but a composite of a whole lot of young blonde women that Ailes, and other bosses at Fox, sexually harassed.
Nicole Kidman, and an eye-catching wig, are the quiet achievers of the film with a pitch-perfect take on the first Fox woman to take Ailes to task, Gretchen Carlson, whose quiet rage rumbles throughout.
As I've said before, I loved The Loudest Voice, which was the first to blow the lid off this particular #metoo foxhole. It took a different path to end up in a similar place but the parallels, and enjoyments to be had are plenty.
Russell Crowe's Ailes was as powerful as John Lithgow's turn here, though Lithgow's brings more humanity to the table, a trick he pulled with his stunning Churchill in The Crown. There's also more humour in the film, not surprising given the chops of the male writer (Big Short) and male director (Austin Powers). But in the end, Bombshell attempts to shine the light on the structures of abuse and challenges faced by the victims but succeeds more in explaining just why Fox is Fox.
●Bombshell (Cinema); The Loudest Voice (Neon)