Movies We Like
Good Night, and Good Luck.
Most of the movies directly about the horrors and political terrorism of the McCarthyism of the 1950s usually center on a dim schmuck who accidentally finds himself involved in the blacklistings. They’ve ranged from the good (The Front with Woody Allen working as an actor-for-hire), the bad (Guilty by Suspicion, the beginning of Robert De Niro’s slid towards mediocrity) and the terrible (Frank Darabont’s awful The Majestic with Jim Carrey, a movie that makes “Capra-esqe” a mortal sin). The usually simplistic genre helps make mega-star actor George Clooney’s second directing effort, Good Night, and Good Luck. (after the interesting but far from perfect Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), seem positively genius in comparison. Instead of piercing the blacklisting from the streets he sets it upstairs in the newsroom of the TV show See It Now, where the legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow (played by David Strathairn in the performance of his career) dared to take on Senator Joseph McCarthy and his House Committee on Un-American Activities. Clooney (who also wrote the script with another one-time journeyman TV actor Grant Heslov) not only makes one of the most pointed films about this ugly period in American politics but also gives us a fascinating glimpse into the working of 1950s television. Shot in color and then transferred to a stunning black & white in post by cinematography all-star Robert Elswit (he’s shot all the Paul Thomas Anderson joints up to There Will Be Blood), Good Night, and Good Luck. really is a marvelous film, beautifully realized in its simplicity and a triumph on all fronts.
Murrow and his trusty producer, Fred Friendly (Clooney), fluctuate their television news magazine show between lightweight celebrity interviews (Liberace!) and more meaningful political pieces, where their heart really is - the fluff is a way to appease their sponsors and the higher-ups at CBS. Knowing that it could start a battle, they decide to take on the dangerous bullying tactics of Senator McCarthy, who was at the height of his powers. He was ruining careers of American citizens by accusing them of being Communists unless they groveled and told McCarthy what a great job he and his Committee where doing, and they were often forced to name others who may be Communists, just to give more names and more power to the often drunk lout Senator. Murrow and Friendly have to walk a tightrope when the Government begins to hint at an investigation of the station's employees and McCarthy himself falls on his old standby trick, accusing Murrow of being a Communist. Meanwhile the head of CBS, William Paley (Frank Langella, wonderful in the role), is forced to defend his star but also tries to keep him on a short leash (the moments between Langella and Strathairn are the best in the movie). The staff is under their own pressure. Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson play a secretly married couple (CBS policy did not allow employees to wed), and in another captivating performance, Ray Wise plays CBS News Correspondent Don Hollenbeck who admires Murrow but lives in terror of having his own lefty political background exposed.
The look and feel of the period is impeccable. Besides Elswit’s smooth camera work, the set design by James Bissell (E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial), mostly just the halls and offices of CBS and the bar across the street, are exceptionally realistic. Everything about the detail is perfect. Although just to nitpick, the music may be old-timey standards sung by Dianne Reeves (often on screen), however they often sound a little too slick in a contemporary way. That said, there really isn’t much else here that isn’t perfect.
Though Clooney’s post Good Night, and Good Luck. directing career has been less impressive (so far two forgettable flicks, Letherheads and The Ides of March), his acting career has soared with acclaimed performances in Syriana, Up in the Air, The Descendants and Michael Clayton. He still would seem to have the right stuff to make another important film or perhaps with Good Night, and Good Luck. the material was just the right source at the right time. With his well known political left leanings and a father who was a long-time news anchorman, maybe he just caught lightning in a bottle. Ben Affleck, another one time pretty-boy actor, has also been reinventing himself as an award darling director; this is nothing new as it goes back to Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles. While many actors have gotten behind the camera as a lark (Arnold Schwarzenegger directing the TV-movie Christmas in Connecticut), some great actors have done it once with unusually spectacular results like Charles Laughton (Night of the Hunter) and Marlon Brando (One-Eyed Jacks). There has always been mid-level actors (or TV stars) who made the full transition to director (Ron Howard, Rob Reiner, etc.). Clooney now joins the ranks of the megastar who went out on a limb for more than a vanity project and he has found just as much acclaim directing at least one outstanding movie as have Warren Beatty (Reds), Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves), Robert Redford (Ordinary People) and Mel Gibson (Apocalypto). But time will tell if Clooney has the stamina to be able to make the ultimate transition the way Clint Eastwood has as a one-time box office superstar with a whole new and more respected full-time career as a middle-of-the-road and wildly diverse filmmaker. It would seem Clooney has the brains and Good Night, and Good Luck. shows he has the chops. If this proves to just be a lark at least he will always have one near masterpiece on his resume.