The Loudest Voice review: Russell Crowe’s new show depressingly chronicles the decay of journalism
The Loudest Voice
Cast - Russell Crowe, Seth MacFarlane, Simon McBurney, Aleksa Palladino, Annabelle Wallis, Naomi Watts
Rating - 3.5/5
Not every politician starts off as corrupt, but corruption has a way of seeping into most politicians. Everyone begins with idealism in their eyes, regardless of their ideology, but over time realises that to do justice to their beliefs, they must make compromises. They justify it to themselves as a necessary evil that must be committed in order to achieve a position of power from which they can truly live up to their ideals, but by the time they get there, years have passed, children have been born, parents have died, and the core values with which they started have inevitably transformed into something else entirely.
Tragically, this theory isn’t limited to the world of politics, but can by applied to any industry, really. The Loudest Voice, the new Showtime series (available to stream in India on Hotstar), translates this idea into the language of journalism. It is both a biopic of the rise of one man - former Fox News chief Roger Ailes - and the fall of an entire profession.
Watch the Loudest Voice trailer here
As someone on the inside, I can tell you that journalism is currently witnessing perhaps the sorriest phase in its history. And regardless of where you come from, you can be sure that this situation can be blamed on the decisions that were taken by one man, many years ago.
Ailes, as portrayed by Academy Award winner Russell Crowe in the seven-part miniseries, oscillates between being a right-wing nut job and a cunning strategist. He’s the man who chose to run his network not as a ‘fair and balanced’ news channel, but as a provider of entertainment. He was instrumental in the creation of an entire offshoot of journalism, one that was built not on thorough reporting and informed commentary, but on hearsay and half-truths.
Each episode of the show is set during a pivotal moment in American history. After predominantly using the first episode as set-up, subsequent chapters tackle everything from 9/11 to the 2008 presidential election and Barack Obama’s second term, before concluding inevitably in the year 2016, when Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.
The idea behind structuring the series in this manner suggests that every move Ailes made had a ripple-effect on the future - not just of his news network, but also the country. The Loudest Voice is a cynical companion piece to the stunningly idealistic HBO series, The Newsroom; a depressing indication of how the popular sentiment has transformed in the interim years.
While that series was unfairly criticised for its portrayal of the television news industry - it was never meant to be a documentary; it was, instead, an unabashed fantasy - The Loudest Voice almost seems to be wagging a finger of shame at its audience, forcing them to confront the monster that they have been complicit in feeding.
By tuning in, whether out of curiosity or not, you have fuelled the beast, until it became so large that it overwhelmed everything else. Had we not laughed the first time we saw a prime time debate dissolve into a yelling match, we wouldn’t have had to witness a time when guests resorted to slapping each other on air, while shrill news anchors spewed hate into the minds of susceptible youth.
To its credit, the show never lets Ailes off easy. He was the sort of conservative who would scoff at a neutral greeting like ‘Happy Holidays’ by snapping back, ‘Merry Christmas’. He was the sort of creep who’d hire anchors not on the basis of their skill or knowledge, but by judging them on how pretty they appeared on camera. Auditions to become a Fox News anchor were so sleazy, the show suggests, that they might as well have been for a soft-porn film.
Ailes, who resigned his post as Fox News CEO in 2016 after inflicting damage that will take decades to fix, was a serial harasser of women. The second half of the series devotes a great deal of time to his downfall, which is as satisfying to watch as it is frustrating.
While the story makes for a compelling TV experience, the writing is too simplistic for a subject as complicated as this. After a few episodes, it seems as if Ailes is simply speaking in bullet points, only to make a mockery of himself. He repeatedly calls Obama ‘Kenyan’, and is essentially shown as embedding the idea in political strategist Roger Stone’s mind that Trump should run for the White House.
But that is sadly what I’d expected from showrunner Tom McCarthy, who won an Oscar for his similarly simplistic 2015 film, Spotlight.
Crowe, however, is very watchable; pushing just the right buttons, at exactly the right moments. As the show evolves from a thrilling drama to broad farce, so does his performance. He is surrounded by a fine supporting cast that includes an exceptional Sienna Miller (who plays his wife), Seth MacFarlane (Ailes’ PR head), Simon McBurney as Rupert Murdoch, and notably, Naomi Watts, as anchor Gretchen Carlson, the hero who brought him down.
It isn’t perfect, but in an age when actual news cannot be relied upon for the truth, a show about the fall of journalism ironically paints a more accurate portrait of our times. And as glaring as its faults may be, a show like this would be impossible in India.