Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: "Good Night, and Good Luck." is Timeless (Happy B'day, David Strathairn)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 172 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) – B&W
Running time: 90 minutes (1 hour, 30 minutes)
MPAA – PG for mild thematic elements and brief language
EDITOR: Stephen Mirrione
Academy Award nominee

DRAMA/HISTORY with elements of Film-Noir and thriller

Starring: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey, Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels, Ray Wise, Thomas McCarthy (as Tom McCarthy), Matt Ross, Tate Donovan, Reed Diamond, Robert John Burke, Grant Heslov, Rose Abdoo, Alex Borstein, and Dianne Reeves

The 1950’s were the early days of broadcast journalism, and those early days witnessed a real-life conflict between famed journalist and television newsman, Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). McCarthy charged that Americans with communist sympathies or some who were outright communists had infiltrated the American government and were a threat to national security. Sen. McCarthy’s detractors called his mission to discover these communist sympathizers as a “witch-hunt.” Murrow believed, as did many others, that Sen. McCarthy’s tactics themselves were un-American, as people were convicted, fired from their jobs, publicly humiliated, and otherwise damaged on the basis of here-say evidence. HUAC didn’t necessarily allow people they accused of being communists to see the evidence against them, nor were the accused allowed to face their accusers.

Murrow, who worked for the CBS news division, decided that people should know about the way Senator McCarthy and HUAC operated and was determined to enlighten the viewing public. Murrow and his staff, headed by his producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney) in the newsroom, examined the lies, misinformation, and scare-mongering tactics perpetrated by Sen. McCarthy during his witch-hunts. In doing so, Murrow and Friendly had to defy both their corporate bosses, exemplified in this film as William Paley (Played Frank Langella, William Samuel Paley founded the Columbia Broadcasting System and led CBS until his death in 1990). Murrow also had to defy the broadcast sponsors of his television news show, See It Now, in this case, aluminum giant, Alcoa. Ed Murrow and Sen. McCarthy’s feud went very public and ugly when the senator accused Murrow of being a communist, but in that climate of fear and fear of government reprisal against them, the CBS news crew continued their reporting on Sen. McCarthy and HUAC, an effort that would be historic and monumental. This is a dramatization or fictional account of those real events.

There is sure to be debate about George Clooney’s debut directorial effort, Good Night, and Good Luck., and Clooney’s is a Hollywood liberal (“liberal” is a dirty word, the term “Hollywood liberal” is a double slur). However, Good Night, and Good Luck. (the title is the phrase the real Ed Murrow used at the end of his TV broadcasts) is a message film, a warning from recent American history as a cautionary tale, and an attempt at film art. As a message film, Good Night may be preaching to the converted. As a warning from the past, it is indeed a riveting cautionary tale. Clooney and his co-writer Grant Heslov emphasize in this tale that while many Americans disagreed with Sen. McCarthy’s activities, many either remained silent hoping he’d go away or said nothing for fear that McCarthy and his supporters would smear them with the accusation of being communists.

It clear (to me, at least) that Clooney thinks that early in this new century, too many Americans disagree with the practices of both the current Presidential administration and the right-leaning and outright right wing media that supports it, and those citizens are silent out of fear, apathy, or, even worse, ignorance. Still, Clooney doesn’t want the film’s obvious detractors accusing him of playing fast and loose with history. No actor portrays Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s in Good Night; he (in a sense) plays himself via archival film footage of HUAC sessions and a few filmed interviews. So Sen. McCarthy can hang himself rather than have the screenwriters Heslov and Clooney do it through a fictional representation of the senator played by an actor.

Thanks for the lesson, George, but is your film any good? Good Night, and Good Luck. is damn good. Clooney presents this film almost as if it were a stage drama, with the stage being the office floor in which the CBS news division prepares its broadcasts. The film only occasionally strays from this womb of determined journalists – a few trips to William Paley’s office and once in a barroom. Good Night is stylish and mannered. Shot in high contrast black and white film (They reportedly shot on color film on a grayscale set, then color-corrected in post-production.), it has a nourish feel. Both dreamlike and mysterious, like a Val Newton horror flick (say Cat People), Good Night is a look into the workplace of men who believe in the principals of their profession and will fight anyone, no matter how powerful, to report the news the way they think it should be. Hell, they’re not shy about editorializing when they think its necessary.

The film remains true to its tagline, “we will not walk in fear of one another,” as the script engages the protagonists against a largely mysterious and unseen enemy who would terrorize the American public with the fear of being publicly ruined if they question the self-appointed judges. In the fact, the choice of using Sen. McCarthy not as an actor, but as an ethereal and ghostly specter living in old film footage adds to the sense of menace the senator is supposed to furnish. Murrow and crew aren’t just fighting a man, they’re fighting a larger thing, an atmosphere of threat with which the journalists must grapple using words and ideas.

The performances in this film are good, but not great, with the exception being David Strathairn as Ed Murrow. Silent and contemplative, Murrow’s mind is always working on the struggle against fear and tyranny – we see that in his acting. In Strathairn, we also see Murrow tackle the big picture (the witch-hunts) and take on a specific villain (McCarthy the ringleader). We can see the pain in Strathairn’s Murrow when he must stay the course, although a friend needs his help in a meaningless side skirmish, but when Clooney and Heslov have Murrow make that choice, that choice makes him seem like a brave man.

Good Night, and Good Luck. is a fine film – all so very well put together, Clooney gives us the candy coating of singer Dianne Reeves (backed by the band that performs with George's aunt, Rosemary Clooney) providing mood establishing jazz interludes. It’s the sweet course of a very good meal.

9 of 10

Saturday, November 12, 2005

2006 Academy Awards: 6 nominations: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Grant Heslov), “Best Achievement in Art Direction” (James D. Bissell-art director and Jan Pascale-set decorator), “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (Robert Elswit), “Best Achievement in Directing” (George Clooney), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (David Strathairn), “Best Writing, Original Screenplay” (George Clooney and Grant Heslov)

2006 BAFTA Awards: 6 nominations: “Best Editing” (Stephen Mirrione), “Best Film” (Grant Heslov), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (David Strathairn), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (George Clooney), “Best Screenplay – Original” (George Clooney and Grant Heslov), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (George Clooney)

2006 Golden Globes: 4 nominations: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (George Clooney), “Best Motion Picture – Drama” “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (David Strathairn), and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (George Clooney and Grant Heslov)


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