Bombshell stars Charlize Theron as Fox's Megyn Kelly who helped expose Roger Ailes

Bombshell (M)

Four stars

Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, left and John Lithgow as Roger Ailes in Bombshell. Picture: Hilary B. Gayle/Studio Canal

Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, left and John Lithgow as Roger Ailes in Bombshell. Picture: Hilary B. Gayle/Studio Canal

Back in early 2016 the world was a different place. Barrack Obama was President of the United States of America and "post-truth" was yet to become word of the year. Dominating the US airwaves was Fox News, with one in five Americans at the time calling it their main source of daily information. The influential subscription news service had been created by Rupert Murdoch in 1996, and he appointed former Republican media adviser Roger Ailes to head up the venture, aimed at attracting conservative viewers. Twenty years later Ailes was America's news kingpin and Murdoch's top general. He had wooed a huge audience with glossy, sensational coverage and glamorous presenters, running the business like a personal fiefdom. You couldn't get much higher.

It is at about this point that Bombshell's story starts: the fascinating, high-energy and somewhat true tale of how three women brought Ailes crashing all the way down.

It's such a hot topic that this is the second dramatisation of these events, Russell Crowe picking up a Golden Globe award for his portrayal of Ailes in the Blumhouse series The Loudest Voice.

In Bombshell, it's John Lithgow who plays Ailes, but the focus here is on the women of the story, with Charlize Theron in the lead as Fox anchor Meghan Kelly, a feisty journalist who takes on Donald Trump when she hosts the Republican debate in March 2016. Reminding Trump of some of the vile things he's said about women, Kelly is subjected to a hostile Twitter attack from Trump the following day, with conservative commentators pitching in to make Kelly the story.

Ailes supports her demands for an apology and we sense a buried history between them.

Meanwhile, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is pulled from anchoring her successful show and considers taking legal action against the company for the discrimination she has faced over the years. Her lawyers suggest that she needs to make it personal and they encourage her to reveal the truth behind the rumours that have long swirled around Ailes.

The third woman in the story is Kayla Pospisil, an entirely fictional character played by Margot Robbie. She's a new and naive recruit to Fox and comes to the attention of Ailes, who suggests that he can further her career if only she can "prove her loyalty".

These three threads ultimately come together as the story plays out in semi-documentary style in the offices and studios of Fox News, where the corporate culture encourages ambition over scruples.

With a superb script from Oscar-winning writer Charles Randolph (The Big Short) and snappy directing from Jay Roach (The Campaign, Trumbo), this is a clever, non-stop ride across rough territory, all the cast looking like they revelled in the experience.

Both Robbie and Theron have been nominated for Oscars for their roles, and Theron inhabits her character with an uncanny likeness. It's worth watching some real footage of Meghan Kelly's clash with Trump to appreciate how much work has gone into the performance.

To balance Kelly's steely energy and Pospisil's trusting innocence, Kidman makes Carlson - who ultimately takes the biggest risk of all - the woman of decency.

All three actresses are superb, with Theron a stand-out, providing a vitality for the narrative whenever she's on screen. They are supported by strong performances from Allison Janney as Ailes's lawyer, Malcolm McDowell, who plays Rupert Murdoch, and Kate McKinnon, a closet liberal and young producer who provides some humour as she introduces Pospisil (and us) to the world of Fox News.

Acclaimed cinematographer Barry Ackroyd - who gave The Hurt Locker and Captain Phillips that intense look of reality - helps ensure the urgent pace with his camerawork, and there are some great music choices throughout, including Billie Eilish's Bad Boy.

Of course, Ailes was far more than a bad boy. He was powerful, predatory and protected. Watching a highly entertaining and gripping story that shows how one person can take a man like him on and bring about change is something we need more of right now.

This story Clever ride across rough territory first appeared on The Canberra Times.