The first thing you notice about The Loudest Voice, the seven-part miniseries about disgraced, deceased former Fox News head and sexual predator Roger Ailes, is the top of Russell Crowe’s head.
r rather the bald cap on the top of Russell Crowe’s head. You keep on noticing it, too. The line separating actor from prosthetic is more visible from some angles than others, but you’re always aware it’s there.
You might not be able to take your eyes off the bald cap at all, in fact, were it not for the other great distraction constantly catching the eye: the blubbery, rubbery fat-suit in which Crowe waddles around like an evil Oliver Hardy, banging his fists on desks, slamming down phones and roaring, spittle flying, at underlings and anyone who doesn’t agree with his way of doing things.
In the opening episode of The Loudest Voice, that’s just about everyone, including Rupert Murdoch’s son Lachlan, played by Barry Watson, who used to be the squeaky-clean, pretty-boy older son from the vapid 7th Heaven but has now grown into his face, who rubs Ailes up the wrong way.
But despite the tons of latex, you never forget you’re watching Russell Crowe. There’s a vulnerability in his eyes that wasn’t present in the real Ailes’s eyes, which in every photograph of him ever taken look cold, hard and empty.
If the eyes really are the windows to the soul, then Ailes’s soul was a black hole. The performance, which all happens on the surface, is reflective of The Loudest Voice itself.
It’s a surprisingly bland, by-the-numbers retelling of how Ailes — who died in 2017 of a cerebral haematoma and was followed to the grave by allegations of sexual abuse by multiple women — created Fox News and how Fox News helped create the culture of bigotry, hatred, false narratives and barefaced lying that’s currently eating America alive.
Fox doesn’t do nuance and neither does the miniseries, which is based on Gabriel Sherman’s book The Loudest Voice in the Room, which lifted the lid on Ailes’s sleazy behaviour. It’s large-scale television, served up in bombastic chunks, where everything is painted in the broadest brush strokes possible.
Episode one opens, in the style of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, with Ailes, who was a haemophiliac, already lying dead on the floor, yet nonetheless delivering an opening narration to his own story.
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“I know what people are going to say about me,” he rumbles. “I can pretty much pick the words for you: right-wing, paranoid, fat.”
The fatness we’ve already covered. The paranoia is apparent in episode two, which takes in 9/11 and sees Ailes, who fears he’s a target of terrorists, buying a lavish home near West Point, so the academy’s cadets can be on the scene within minutes should al-Qaida come to get him.
But first, it flips back to 1995 (each episode is devoted to a key year in Ailes’s life) when he’s eased out of CNBC, which would soon become MSNCB, and recruited by Rupert Murdoch (Simon McBurney) to run Fox News, which is intended to counter the news networks run by and supposedly aimed at “the liberal elite”.
The script delights in dropping phrases that have become common right-wing parlance.
There are early glimpses of the disgusting attitude to women that would lead to Ailes’s downfall. We see him getting creepily handsy with female job candidates. “Who ordered the pussy masala?” he asks after a South Asian applicant leaves the room.
There’s the odd amusing moment; for instance, the depiction of the newly recruited Sean Hannity (Patch Darragh) as an inept dimwit who has to be fed a script to stop interviewees wiping the floor with him.
But overall it’s clumsy, shallow and peppered with risibly portentous dialogue.
“This is our time, Rupert, this is our time!” bellows Crowe, in a performance designed to be overrated. It won’t be.