Good Night And Good Luck (2005) PG 93min
October 12th, 2007 by Maxim · No Comments · 3,869 Views
This 6-Oscar-nominated film directed by George Clooney and written by Clooney and Grant Heslow was my favorite movie in 2005 along with “Crash” (Crash was filmed in ‘04 but released in ‘05). The movie is about two CBS reporters, Edward R. Morrow (David Strathairn) and his producer Fred F. Friendly (George Clooney) who decided to make a stand against Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin and his supporters like FBI, then in charge of J. Edgar Hoover, and brought an end to the era that is now called McCarthyism.
This is an important film because it gives a historic example of how politicians have used fear to erode civil liberties (reminds you of anyone?), get rid of political opposition and authorise wiretapping, burglaries, mail opening etc., and how important it is to stand up to them. Many people suffered loss of employment, destruction of their careers and even imprisonment when even a hint of association or leftist ideology was discovered and reported to “authorities”. Primary targets of this policy of ridding United States of “Second Red Scare” were many government employees, even military, educators (even organizations such as left-leaning Washington Bookshop Organization), union activists. Truman and Eisenhower’s governments created “loyalty review committees” and “black lists” of suspects. Many people were fired without any further process. Those who ended up in court had their lawyer’s phones wire tapped. When Supreme Court limited the ability of the Justice Department to prosecute “Communists”, frustrated Hoover administration resorted to planting forged documents, spreading rumors, calling IRS audits etc. Many people in Hollywood film industry were intimidated, suffered unemployment or were even imprisoned when House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed many screenwriters, actors and directors to answer before Congress about their alleged affiliation with the Communist Party and support of their ideology. Some 300 actors, writers and directors were denied work in the U.S. through the unofficial blacklist, which included Charlie Chaplin, Leonard Bernstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer (father of the atomic bomb), Paul Robeson and more.
So this is a quick historical overview of the events described in the movie. This movie looks so good in black & white: it puts you in the time period when television was something new when most people listened to the radio, it creates the atmosphere of “dark” or “gray” times – the time of struggle. Of course, it makes mixing it with archive footage easier. But it also makes words more important then action. In fact the whole movie is a balancing act of how important the words are while trying not to sound preachy. It’s also worth mentioning that everyone is smoking in that movie and there are quite a few shots of posters and cigarette commercials on TV that make smoking so glamorous. R&B singer: “…Dum Da-Dum, Yeah, Television is the new thing of this Year…”.
The film begins with Murrow’s speech to fellow journalists from 1958. Then we go back to 1953 CBS studio where Murrow and Fred Friendly are reviewing a case of an air-force man who was fired from the air-force after trial by Air-force without any evidence because his father read some Serbian newspaper, and is forced to denounce his father and his father as the threat to the country. They decide to air the story. Then all hell breaks loose. Sponsors drop out, McCarthy himself calls Murrow a member of subversive organization. But CBS leadership and his subordinates stick together. “It was crusading journalism”, newspapers wrote.
The film’s strongest in terms of acting and directing when it shows how terrified the journalists were of being accused of being leftists. “The terror is in this room”, says Murrow. One of the journalists, Don Hollenberg, commits suicide – that’s how terrified he was!
Strathairn mastered Murrow’s mannerism, his poses and speech patterns. He’s always with his famous cigarette. He didn’t look much like Murrow though.
Clooney’s father was a newscaster, and in several interviews Clooney said he used to sit in the studio many times and watch his father work. This movie shows how real journalists should behave. Clooney and Strathairn work together so well. Murrow was a great journalist, but not perfect: he corrected McCarthy on everything except him saying that Alger Hiss was convicted for treason, while he was actually convicted for purgery. Clooney implies that Murrow was probably afraid of being too sensitive to communists and censored himself.
McCarthy plays himself: Clooney used miles of his archive footage. All of the events happen either at the bar or in tiny, almost claustrophobic space of the studio, which is also underlined by the silence and absence of background music because silence is such a powerful tool of conveying tension. The movie shows how news and politics work, and how corporate part of CBS was pressuring news part of the organization to change how they report news to protect their revenue from sponsors and in fear of character assassination.
Worth mentioning a sort of a sub-plot about secretly married couple, Shirley and Joe Wershba (Patricia Clarkson and Robert Downey Jr.), who work for CBS News, but the company policy prohibits married couples to work together. Since they have a secret, the viewer is set up to believe that McCarthy may be right and communist infiltration is everywhere.
My favorite Murrow quote: “…we have become fat and complacent… when television is used to mis-inform, indoctrinate and distract”. “We will not walk in fear of one another”. “The descent is not the proof of disloyalty”.
The film is in many respects similar to 1999 Insider, that won an Oscar for Russel Crowe – also about a person and his family being terrorised for their trying to stand up for something they believe in.
I loved the camera work with long lenses being used, so closeups are really sharp and backgrounds are really blurred – makes every character stand out.
Jazz soundtrack is very nice. Puts you in that time and almost makes you smell the cigarette smoke and wants you to reach for that Martini bottle and put your 50s hat on.
DVD contains a commentary by George Clooney and Grant Heslow. Jeff Daniels is also starring. There’s also some archive footage of Bobby Kennedy and Eisenhower.
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