Saturday, December 10, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck

Good Night, and Good Luck, a sliver in the life of reporter and newscaster Edward R. Murrow, is the perfect little film. Director George Clooney employs a couple of clever and effective "tricks" to take the years away and put us into the mood of this somber period when Murrow faced down Senator Joe McCarthy.

1. Senator McCarthy is shown only on film, film showing him at the senatorial hearings for unAmerican activities. What a clever device -- showing McCarthy's failings by the truth we see with our own eyes, the lies we hear with our own ears. McCarthy's rebuttal to Murrow's accusations is shown documentary-style as well. No actor could be as powerful as the real deal.

2. There's only one set: the CBS newsroom. But there's one exception. We follow a couple, portrayed subtly by Robert Downey, Jr. and Patricia Clarkson as reporters who are secretly married but also facing a crackdown on the rules of proper moral behavior within the station. This couple shows us the inner workings of the small circle of reporters, those who put together a daunting, live-action production on a weekly basis. Using this technique, we never get too close to Edward R. Murrow and his producer Fred Friendly. But we get to watch, closely.

We're effectively transported back to the '50's, first by the pervasive cigarette smoke that seems like an additional character in the film. The screenplay is tight, effective, showing only those elements that tell this story. It's a story that shows us what a powerful effect broadcasters like Murrow had on the American people in the developing age of television, and how one of those broadcasters used his power for good.

Brilliant casting helps, too. Frank Langella is most magnificent as the all-powerful Oz in those days, William Paley from the ivory tower. But Paley is not shown as the villain here. We see him caught in between other powerful forces -- advertiser Alcoa, for instance -- but he's clearly the one with the hammer. If there's a villain besides McCarthy, it has to be network hatchetman Jeff Daniels, who does Paley's dirty work by making sure all the rules are followed.

George Clooney directs himself into dropping those affectations he has always been fond of, and, as a result, we get a crisp, clean performance from George. Of course, it should be said that the real acting performance in this film is David Straitharn, positively brilliant as Murrow. This character shows no fear, is utter confidence, until one second after Friendly announces "we're clear;" you then see a collapse of form as doubt crawls across his face, quickly gone before he faces his comrades once again. This is the type of performance that shapes one's career. Straitharn worked in the shadows for his entire career. That phase appears to be over.

This is an incredible slice of history, one that amazingly hasn't been told to this date. It has now been told perfectly in this not-to-be-missed academy-award-deserving film. Thumb's up!


At 10:20 PM, Blogger Chyrene Pendleton said...

I enjoyed your review on this important part of our history. I too write movie reviews on my website and have one on this film in my November newsletter.

My father (deceased now) was a news broadcaster for CBS about a decade after this time period and I know he would have enjoyed this film very much!


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