December 17, 2019 – Sharp, funny and shocking, this is a drama about events leading up to the sexual harassment scandals that rocked the Fox News network in 2016, leading to the resignation of Fox News chief, Roger Ailes. This drama follows on the heels of last year's documentary, “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes,” which also covers some of the same history.
This drama centers on three women at Fox News, news anchors Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson and associate producer Kayla Pospisil. While Kelly (played by Charlize Theron) and Carlson (played by Nicole Kidman) were well-known newscasters on the network, Pospisil (played by Margot Robbie of “I, Tonya”) is a made up character based on several different people at Fox News around the time of the events depicted in this film.
Pospisil, a conservative evangelical Christian who is angling for her own show on the network, switches from Carlson's show to Bill O'Reilly's show. O'Reilly (Kevin Dorff) has the top-rated show on the network, while Carlson has fallen out of favor with Ailes (played by John Lithgow). Carlson suspects she is going to be fired and begins to prepare her legal exit strategy.
Megyn Kelly, a Fox News star, is publicly attacked by Donald Trump and his followers after she asks him some tough questions during a televised presidential debate. Kelly doesn't want the attention that comes with being the center of a news story as Trump continues his barrage of attacks against her. She receives moral support from Ailes, but his support wanes as it becomes clear Trump is going to be the Republican Party's nominee for President. Later, Ailes would join Trump's election campaign staff.
When Carlson loses her job at Fox News, she immediately files a well-prepared sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes. This is something that Ailes denies, but the owners of Fox News, Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell of “The Artist”) and his family, take seriously, launching an internal investigation into the matter. According to this movie, Ailes, Bill O'Reilly and others at Fox News had engaged in sexual harassment against women at the network for years.
Pospisil is befriended by fellow staffer Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon of “Yesterday”) who gives her advice on how to craft the Fox News formula, which is quite different from straight news. Carr, a closeted lesbian enters into a casual relationship with Pospisil, who is mostly heterosexual. She worries about Pospisil's visits to Ailes' private office, knowing Ailes' reputation with women. Her worries are justified.
Carlson's lawsuit causes a sensation in the news business. Ailes tries to line up a united front against Carlson's charges, but while support remains steady among the men at the network, it begins to crumble amongst women, especially those who had been victims of Ailes, O'Reilly or others.
Megyn Kelly is seriously conflicted about the lawsuit. She is pressed hard by the network to speak in support of Ailes. She won't defend Ailes, but she won't attack him either. She needs her network salary and is afraid she will lose her job if she speaks out against Ailes. In addition, she likes Ailes, who has supported her in the past.
Eventually, enough women come forward against Ailes that he is forced out by Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James (played by Josh Lawson) and Lachlan Murdoch (played by Ben Lawson). In the film, it appears that the younger Murdochs are not fans of Ailes, and Ailes doesn't like them, either. Rupert Murdoch confides in his sons, saying he hopes they know what they are doing in getting rid of Ailes, who has made billions of dollars for the Murdoch family.
This fall from power by Ailes is a riveting story, with elements of Shakespeare. Ailes, at his height wielded more political power from behind the scenes than all but a few people in government. At the same time, he built one of the most successful news networks in history by tailoring the news to a specific political formula, including catering to popular prejudices. Fox News paved the way for the election of Donald Trump, among others, through its attacks on immigrants and racial minorities.
The acting, by Theron, Kidman, Robbie, McKinnon, Lithgow and others is very strong. The story is compelling, with plenty of drama and some humor. The screenplay, by Charles Randolph (“The Big Short”) is cleverly written, with some memorable lines. Director Jay Roach (“Trumbo”) keeps the pace of the film rolling along and balances the several story lines well. This is one of the year's best movies. It rates an A.
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