Worth A Look: 28.57%
Pretty Bad: 1.9%
Total Crap: 8.57%
10 reviews, 45 user ratings
|Good Night, and Good Luck.
"Good Night, and Good Luck" is a history lesson that doesn’t feel like a dry lecture. In recounting how broadcast journalism pioneer Edward R. Murrow exposed the abuses of Red-baiting Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, co-writer-director George Clooney has managed to make a movie that demonstrates the power and the limitations of the press and manages to entertain in the process.Clooney and co-screenwriter Grant Heslov (who’s currently best know for playing The Rock’s sidekick in “The Scorpion King”) explore territory that has been covered before, but they imbue their recounting of the events of 1953 and 1954 with tension and black humor that makes catching this new telling worthwhile.
"Good Night, Good Luck and Good Movie"
“Good Night, and Good Luck” works for the most part because Clooney and Heslov adopt a fly-on-the-wall treatment of how Murrow (John Sayles veteran David Strathairn) and his crew slowly began their denunciation of McCarthy’s unscrupulous techniques in chasing after Communists.
The film rarely leaves the studio. By keeping his focus narrow and his scope claustrophobic, Clooney recaptures much of what made the original “See It Now” broadcasts so effective. It doesn’t hurt that much of the dialogue comes straight from Murrow’s broadcasts or from eyewitness accounts of the era.
Like Murrow himself, he lets McCarthy’s own words and actions condemn the Senator. Instead of casting an actor to play the Senator, Clooney uses existing footage of McCarthy.
This is a shrewd move because doing otherwise would have reduced McCarthy to a caricature, something the Senator wound up doing to himself anyway with his alcoholism. McCarthy’s eerily haggard appearance (what was left of his hair dangled in front of his sweaty face), bellicose manner and selective use of the facts scared viewers more than anything Murrow might have said about him.
Clooney initially wanted to play Murrow himself. Thankfully, he gave the role to Strathairn, who skillfully copies Murrow’s mannerism and his gravitas.
If you’ve ever had the please of catching a recording of one of Murrow’s broadcasts, he could make a traffic report sound like a Biblical edict. Strathairn doesn’t have the same resonance in his voice that Murrow had, but he effortlessly captures the broadcaster’s tone and humanizes him.
Watch Strathairn during the breaks in between Murrow’s on-camera segments, and you’ll see his terror before the cameras rolled.
Clooney wisely avoids lionizing Murrow by having characters acknowledge that Murrow was relatively late in going after McCarthy when other mainstream pundits like cartoonist Herbert Block had already challenged him.
We also see a reproduction of Murrow’s hilariously content-free “interview” for “Person to Person” with Liberace, in which the journalist feeds lamely scripted questions to the pianist, including one asking the flamingly gay star about his plans for marriage. The disgusted look on Strathairn’s face in the aftermath is worth the price of admission.
Clooney and Heslov score some of their strongest points in how they portray the complex relationship that Murrow had with CBS head honcho William Paley. Instead of depicting him as an uncaring suit, Frank Langella plays Paley as a man who appreciates Murrow’s dedication and integrity but might be unable to continue paying for them and for operating the rest of the network.
“Good Night, and Good Luck” ultimately raises the ugliest truth about the free press. The only people who are truly free to express their opinions are the proprietors of the outlets, and Murrow’s greatest failing in the eyes of his employers at CBS was that his innovative “See It Now” program was too expensive in regard to the controversy it generated. Paley decided that entertainment and even game shows were ultimately getter investments.
It takes more time, effort and expense to examine an issue properly (reporters might have to travel or hunt down people who are hesitant to talk) than it does to hire a pundit of questionable expertise to pontificate on it. Stockholders might be happier, but viewers lose out on information that could be vital. In short, media consumers are at the mercy of an owner’s decision on how much actual content they are willing to deliver for the money.
While there’s some justified sermonizing in “Good Night, and Good Luck,” there’s also a good deal of snappy banter and some downright belly laughs. Clooney includes period commercials, including one for Kent cigarettes that unknowingly invites viewers to smoke the same tobacco that killed Murrow himself.
The supporting cast is consistently solid with Clooney himself playing the driven, pragmatic producer Fred W. Friendly and Ray Wise as the tormented anchorman Don Hollenbeck. After watching a recent interview with former CBS executive Sig Mickelson, it’s eerie how much Jeff Daniels captures his mannerisms.
The black-and-white photography and the jazz score are appropriately stylish touches that imply the period. Clooney does have a few missteps. The subplot involving Joe and Shirley Wershba’s (Robert Downey, Jr. and Patricia Clarkson) clandestine marriage seems a bit undercooked.
I’ve recently watched a DVD collection of Murrow’s original broadcasts including the ones he did on McCarthy. “Good Night and Good Luck: The Edward R. Murrow Television Collection” from Docurama includes the whole of McCarthy’s bizarre grilling of an espionage suspect in which the Senator walks out before his brethren in the Senate blast the proceedings for the flimsy evidence.
In the longer footage on the DVD set, Senator Symington from Missouri even offers the persecuted woman a job while McCarthy is nowhere around to support his claims against her. Clooney and Heslov obviously had to cut segments to fit, but watching the longer portions on the DVD set, indicates that Clooney and Heslov have missed some of the power of Murrow’s original reports.Clooney effectively bookends the central story with a chilling speech from 1958 in which Murrow demanded that television networks stop insulating viewers from reality and instead try to help them understand it better. As Strathairn recites Murrow’s warnings, it’s as if no time has passed and that Murrow is challenging current broadcasters to meet his own high standard.
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originally posted: 10/31/05 19:11:15