Good Night, and Good Luck
April 7, 2006
Starring: David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Ray Wise, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels, George Clooney, Tate Donovan, Thomas McCarthy, Matt Ross, Reed Diamond, ,
2005 was a good year for politically and socially conscious films – Syriana, Munich, The Constant Gardener and Good Night, and Good Luck. The last film marked George Clooney’s sophomore directorial effort (the first being Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) and chronicled legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow’s (played in the film by Strathairn) public battle against Senator Joseph McCarthy who was waging his own war on what he perceived as a Communist threat in the United States during the 1950s. His tactics were highly suspect and a lot of innocent people lost their jobs and, in some cases, their lives because of McCarthy’s actions.
In keeping with T.V. as most people saw it in 1953 (the year the film takes place), Clooney’s film is presented black and white evoking the feeling of a bygone era. Make no mistake, however, this is not some soft focus nostalgia piece as he quickly and efficiently sets up the political climate of the time. People live in fear of McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt as any kind of subversion, no matter how minor, is seen as fair game for his bullying ways. Clooney then plunges us right into the busy CBS newsroom.
Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly (Clooney) run a story about an Air Force officer who has been unfairly released by the government for undisclosed reasons (in other words, for suspected subversion). On the eve of the broadcast Friendly is threatened by Air Force brass and commercial sponsors pull their lucrative advertisements. And so begins a war of words between Murrow and McCarthy. As in any war there are casualties. Fellow CBS newscaster Don Hollenbeck (a heartbreakingly sympathetic Wise) is labeled a “pinko,” his wife leaves him and he eventually commits suicide after being unable to hold up to the attacks on his loyalties from his contemporaries in the newspapers.
After that initial piece, McCarthy and his cronies try to smear Murrow as a Commie while CBS chief William Paley (a perfectly cast Langella) puts pressure on the newsman to ease up on McCarthy or, at the very least, to make absolutely sure that his sources are a 100% reliable. So, Friendly and Murrow decide to go right after McCarthy.
Clooney and Grant Heslov’s screenplay is trimmed of any narrative fat and makes clear and concise points. They may be accused of lionizing Murrow but so what? In this day and age when Ryan Seacrest is given as much attention as any of the major network newscasters something is definitely wrong. If anything, Good Night is a lament for the lack of journalists with integrity.
Clooney’s film recalls the heady days when television journalists, like Murrow, were highly regarded as objective investigators of the truth and known for their unimpeachable integrity. Murrow was considered by many to be the epitome of this ideal. David Strathairn turns in another solid performance, portraying the journalist as a brave man not afraid to stand up for his beliefs. For those of us who have been watching Strathairn in his early days, appearing in John Sayles films, this is nothing new but his turn in Good Night and his subsequent Academy Award nomination gives this great character actor much deserved wider exposure.
Good Night, and Good Luck is relevant to our current political climate as President Bush and his cronies, like McCarthy, trample over our civil liberties and exert pressure on the mainstream American press (who roll over and take it), creating a climate of fear. Now, more than ever, we need someone like Murrow who is willing to stand up to these bullies. If this film tells us anything it is that our media must be ever vigilant and be willing to criticize our government when it is wrong.
There is audio commentary with George Clooney and his screenwriting partner (and the film’s producer) Grant Heslov. Interspersed between factoids is their dry, self-deprecating humour that makes this relaxed track quite an entertaining listen. Clooney and Heslov mention that they didn’t want their film to be preachy or follow the traditional biopic formula. Instead, they wanted to zero in on Murrow’s battle against censorship and comment on today’s political situation in the process. These guys clearly did their homework as they speak very knowledgeably about Murrow and the times he lived in. They also are able discuss various filmmaking techniques they employed and what other films and filmmakers that influenced them.
“Good Night, and Good Luck Companion Piece” examines how Clooney and Heslov consulted with Friendly and Murrow’s families to make sure that they got the facts right and portrayed them accurately. Some of these relatives are even interviewed and talk about what it was like back then.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.