on 3 February 2007
It can be a strange thing when history repeats itself, so it seems no accident that George Clooney chooses now to take his second stab at directing, choosing as his subject the McCarthy Anti-Communist Witch hunts of the 1950's, another time when to speak out against the American government would have you branded as a traitor. Taking its title from Ed Murrows famous closing lines from his nightly broadcast, the film focuses on the sacking of a navy airman without trial or justification just because he may be a "Commie", and then uses this to hang a much broader story about the suppression of free speech and the systematic hijacking of "innocent until proven guilty". What matters here is not whether the airman was a "Commie" or not, what is important is that merely by suggestion and suspicion he has been tired and convicted without due process to the law. A case of guilty by suggestion.
As the crusading and highly intelligent Murrow, David Straitharn gives a deadpan and enigmatic performance, allowing us to realise that although Murrow appears calm and composed on the outside, inside he is raging against the injustices he sees perpetrated by McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee every day. When Murrow calls for tolerance and understanding, stating that not to agree with someone is not to see him as the enemy, McCarthy resorts to insults, in one particular sequence calling Murrow "the cleverest of the jackal pack". Clooney, playing Murrows producer and close friend Fred Friendly (apt name and no joke) gives a quiet performance that refuses to upstage Strathairn, the man who has clearly been tasked with carrying the weight of this weighty subject. Unfortunately, as good as the rest of the cast are (Jeff Daniels, Frank Langella, Robert Downey Jnr), the supporting players never really seem like fully rounded characters, real though they may be.
Utilizing a subdued black and white palate and avoiding any barnstorming scenes or speeches, this is a dignified piece of film-making that tries to deal with a weighty and very timely subject with intelligence and insight. This is an attempt to wake us all up to the fact that to disagree with the powers that be does not mean you are the enemy, whilst at the same time decrying the waste of what promised to be one of the greatest tools to educate and inform, the television itself. That the film ultimately fails to pull this of is a result of both its short running time, coming in at just (and I mean just) over 90 minutes (not really enough time to deal with such a subject), and the fact that it feels like a play that has been made into a film (which it isn't). Still, a brave effort nonetheless, and a timely one at that. The dumbing down of television, which has reached something of a zenith in this day and age, confuses the eye and confounds the imagination, distracting us from what is important and allowing the powers that be to do things in our name that maybe, just maybe if we were paying attention we would not be so happy about.
on 6 August 2007
This film is a salutary lesson in the fact that the USA goes through regular fits of total barminess, such as the one currently being endured under the present theocracy. In the early 1950s, Wisconsin, a state famous for two reasons only, dairy products and the Green Bay Packers, acquired a dubious third, a junior Senator called Joseph McCarthy, who sought to make a name for himself by finding Reds under nearly every bed. It was an era when people could lose jobs because they were risks to national security, based on evidence they weren't allowed to see and when the media were relatively subdued for fear of being labelled as "unpatriotic" or even "treasonous". Sound familiar?
The story is of the confrontation between McCarthy and the distinguished CBS newsman Ed Murrow, famous for his broadcasts from London during the Blitz ("Goodnight, and good luck" was his London sign-off - after all, nobody knew whether there was a Luftwaffe bomb with your name on it - which he kept). On his CBS news show, Murrow calmly and methodically exposed McCarthy for the humbug that he was, and when McCarthy tried to smear him, equally calmly and methodically took him apart. It was the end of the road for McCarthyism (although the whole travesty of un-American activities, blacklisted Hollywood writers, etc., was to continue for some years).
The film is in black and white and features director George Clooney in a secondary role. Murrow is played by David Strathairn, who looks passably like Murrow, and he does a splendid job as the determined journalist. No actor plays McCarthy, he being played by himself, on old TV recordings. Another good role is CBS's long-suffering boss, forever on the verge of becoming a nervous wreck because of the fear of Murrow's crusading scaring away the sponsors. In the end, he tells Murrow that his type of reporting is no longer required and changes the nature of his show.
Which brings us to the beginning and the end of the film. The story is bookended by a speech that Murrow gave to a radio and TV association meeting, which was a litany of complaint of how television, a powerful force for enlightenment, was becoming a trivial medium, lacking serious meaning and squandering its potential. It wasn't popular, but how right it was...
All in all, a short film (less than 1½ hours) effectively executed and well worth seeing. The atmosphere and feel of the time (including endless cigarettes!) are beautifully captured.
on 19 March 2006
This film tells us about the fight of CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and his team to expose the irregular methods senator Joseph McCarthy used to fight communism. That took courage, specially in the 50´s, a time when the fear of Communism was pervasive and McCarthy had helped to create a climate of paranoia in which disagreeing with him immediately led to accusations of being a Communist.
Murrow and his producer and partner, Fred Friendly (George Clooney) decided to take this matter in their hands when faced with a case that, even though not involving McCarthy directly, was an excellent example of the climate of fear the nation was living in. The following step was to attack McCarthy´s methods, using the senator`s own words and footage of audiences of the Committee McCarthy presided. Murrow pointed truths that many had forgotten, that is, that accusation is not proof, and that “We cannot defend freedom abroad by disserting it at home”. He also made his viewers remember that “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it”.
“Good night and good luck” was directed by George Clooney, and based on a script he cowrote with Grant Heslov. In my opinion, it is a truly outstanding film. Of course, it is entertaining, and has a superb cast. But the real reason why you really should watch this movie is that it brings home some important lessons about responsibility, the responsibility of journalists but also that of citizens. Unfortunately, that is something we all tend to forget, from time to time.
In conclusion, and just in case I haven´t made myself clear, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Part of me is surprised that "Good Night, and Good Luck" was a theatrical film, because it struck me as being the sort of thing I would expect to see on HBO. The 2005 Oscar nominated film only runs 93 minutes and most of the scenes take place in the intimacy of a television studio, so it would seem much better suited for the tube rather than the screen (my understanding is that George Clooney originally conceived of it as a live broadcast special on CBS). Consequently I think it is probably more effective seeing it on DVD than in the movie theater.
This is not a bio-pic, but a morality play. So do not expect any scrawl at the end explaining what happened to Murrow, McCarthy and the rest of the characters (the film implicitly says "shame on you" if you do not know already). It is about the events leading up to and the aftermath of the March 9, 1954 broadcast of a "See It Now" special entitled "A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy," put together by Murrow (David Strathairn) and producer Fred Friendly (Clooney). Three weeks later McCarthy was given an opportunity to refute the charges on the show, but instead resorted to his standard practice of denouncing anybody who dared to attack him, essentially completing the job that Murrow had begun. However, the victory Murrow and Friendly won did not come without a cost, as see in the tragic story of Don Hollenbeck (Ray Wise) and the decisions CBS chairman William S. Paley (Frank Langella) made regarding the future of Murrow on television based on economic considerations.
"Good Night, and Good Lucky" makes a series of strategic stories to tell the story. First, because all of the appearances of Murrow and McCarthy on television were in black & white, the entire film ends up being done that way. There are several points where Clooney plays wih cuts and changing the rack focus to shift from seeing Murrow directly and on television, and that works better when everything is in black & white. Second, instead of an actor playing Senator McCarthy, Clooney uses actual footage. After all, that was what Murrow did on his broadcast, letting McCarthy speak for himself. But this also has an advantage because anyone playing the junior Senator from Wisconsin trying to do for him what Strathairn is doing for Murrow is going to look like a clown.
Third, obviously McCarthy is saying what McCarthy really said, but as when Murrow is on camera the script sticks to what he really said as well. Some of the key things Murrow said off camera are considered to be authentic as well, and most viewers will be able to appreciate that simply because they will have a real sense of Murrow's use of language and the rhythm of his speech. There are liberties taken with chronology, collapsing the time frame as to when things happened without changing the order (as near as I can tell), but avoiding subtitles constantly telling us the date is fine with me. Also, Clooney softens the direct and rather documentary-like approach by bridging the major acts of the film with songs sung in the studio next door by jazz singer Dianne Reeves. The songs do not offer any sort of musical counterpoint to the narrative, but beyond being a homage to Clooney's aunt they also give a sense of the time and give the director an opportunity to be artistic and justify his Oscar nomination in that category.
Of course, the release of this film at this time makes it political, because we are again living in a time when there are elements of the government justifying their actions in the name of national security. The film explicitly condemns McCarthy, but then it implicitly attacks not only Bush, but Reagan and Nixon (It is not that the film is inherently anti-Republican, but rather than only Republicans get to cloak their actions in the blanket of national security; Democrats on soft on things like defense). Getting the communists is not that different from getting the terrorists or considering all dissent to be by definition un-American. Once again, the more things change the more they remain the same.
However, ultimately the main indictment of "Good Night, and Good Luck" is not of politicians, who we know full well will lie to us in the name of self-interest and maintaining power. Rather the harshest critique is for the television news of today, where the vast majority of reporters are unwilling to stand up to power and, even more damningly, unwilling to tell the truth. The framing device for the film is Murrow's keynote address to the 1958 convention of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, and his withering critique of the medium that he used so well. If Murrow were alive today and not constantly spinning in his grave, I have no doubt that he would be saving his most withering comments for his fellow journalists, not that any of them today are really in his class.
Here is a really scary thought. Look at the talking heads on television today who are most famous and ask yourself: do they remind you more of Edward R. Murrow or of Senator Joseph McCarthy?
on 8 August 2007
This is simply a great film. Brilliantly acted, well directed, fantastic script. It conveys the paranoia and madness of the McCarthy era in the States brilliantly, without you actually having to know too much of what went on. As it is based on true facts it shows how brave Murrow was in taking a stand against McCarthyism. It also is a great lesson to today's sensation seeking journalists on what it takes to stand up for what you believe in and yet still remain impartial and let the facts do the work for you. I warmly recommend this film to everyone.
I won't join the chorus of accolades for George Clooney for his direction of this movie, but I will give him credit for making it. The way the press has been pushed around (and especially let itself be pushed around) during the George W. Bush years is a disgrace, and it is good that Clooney is here to remind us of a journalist who had the guts to go after a power-hungry demagog whose agenda included finding traitors among those who disagreed with him. Sound familiar?
So, just as Arthur Miller's celebrated play The Crucible was timely in that it symbolically chastised those who would conduct witch hunts in the name of patriotism, Clooney's film is timely in that it reminds the Fourth Estate of its responsibility, a responsibility sorely neglected in the buildup to the war in Iraq.
As far as the film itself goes, a black and white fusion of documentary footage and an acted-out story line, it was good, but not great. David Strathairn, playing Edward R. Murrow, certainly had Murrow's voice, cadences and mannerisms down pat. However, because there would be a viewer's eye conflict with the actor's appearance and the way the real Edward R. Murrow looked, we were unfortunately not shown footage of Murrow himself. Which is a shame. Even though I was a child at the time, seeing Murrow's dark, penetrating presence on the old Muntz TV was indelible. He had a way of talking straight to the viewer and doing so in a manner that was clear, fair and to the point. Strathairn does a good job of reenacting that presence.
And it was good to see some footage of the demagoging junior Republican senator from Minnesota, Joseph McCarthy, in all his drunken, bullying vainglory. And I was fascinated to see President Eisenhower giving a spirited speech. Indeed the film managed to atmospherically recall the era of the early fifties when TV was all in black and white and everybody smoked to excess, especially Murrow. (But softening accusations of receiving Big Tobacco money, Clooney was wise to include an old TV commercial for Kent cigarettes in which the hyping of their new "safe" filters sounds cruelly ironic today.)
Frank Langella was excellent as Murrow's careful, yet supportive boss, media legend William Paley. And Clooney himself played a nicely understated Fred Friendly. I have to say however that the film lacked a certain tension and that the focus was not as clearly defined as it might have been. A film without much tension and with a fuzzy focus can be boring (as some viewers have had the temerity to point out). Yet would it have been better to have simplified the issues for the sake of an easier understanding and accessibility for the average viewer? I don't know, but if I had been Clooney I would have more directly tied the issue of the responsibility and independence of a free press (the central issue in the film) in with what is happening today and what has happened in recent years.
Almost stopping the show by herself was jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves singing some of the standards of the era, including "How High the Moon," "One for My Baby," etc., and the very catchy and ironic, "TV is the Thing This Year." Her easy but intense concentration, her beautiful voice, and her exquisite timing were for me one of the highlights of the movie.
Bottom line: After seeing this on a return flight from Hawaii I can now say that not EVERY film that I have seen on an airline has been unwatchable. However flawed, Good Night, and Good Luck is definitely worth the time and effort, especially for those who care about the history of broadcast journalism and governmental attempts to control the media.
on 17 September 2006
It's not often I recommend a film for illuminating current political discourse but "Good Night, and Good Luck" is one of those that puts the civil liberties case well.
The feature shows the story of journalist Ed Murrow (Strathairn) who, in the 50s, used the medium of television to openly question the direction Senator Joe McCarthy (using the original recordings) was taking America. He highlighted cases and used McCarthy's own words against him.
The film was made in black & white. It consists of the production discussions of the items on the issue in question and reconstructions of the broadcasts. Being Murrow's story, he is in virtually every scene. If you want to compare it to any other movie -- the closest I can think of is The Insider.
The film serves two purposes: to illuminate part of American history and, in light of current events, to remind people about the safeguards of the Constitution (and the issues around the news gathering in the US). If you liked The Insider, and/or are interested in either McCarthy and/or Civil Liberties issues, then give this a try.
on 1 December 2006
In this era of CNN, SkyNews and corporate controlled media you wish that Murrow would make a return from the grave and show them and us what journalism is meant to be - courageous, full of guts and controversial! We have become isolated,politically correct and happy with what we are force fed ! Fantastic movie, great performances, perfect wording and script, smoky, black and white atmosphere, no frills and gimmicks, all of which leave the message do all the talking... It will leave you wanting more ...
on 11 June 2006
One of the great things about George Clooney's "Good Night and Good Luck" is that you need not know anything about Senator Joe McCarthy or Edward R. Murrow to appreciate the importance and drama of their 50 year old conflict played out on TV in the every home, every night here in the US and around the world a half century ago.
Gloriously shot in evocative black and white and expertly directed by George Clooney with a sensitive eye towards the 1950's milieu of this story: stock footage of McCarthy is seamlessly and cleverly blended with new, "GNAGL" is made as contemporary and palpably current as this morning's newspaper.
David Strathairn plays Murrow as a conflicted man: inexorably drawn to the pursuit of truth and the uncovering of those that would attempt to obscure it yet always aware that his position as television's conscience requires of him a certain amount of decorum. His portrayal is marked by both a frantic restraint and a quiet passion that speaks to the very best in all of us.
"Good Night and Good Luck" is a daring, sophisticated movie that holds its audience in the highest regard: never once dumbing down its cogent story in order to win us over. It is a film that demands a lot of us, but our payback is in the invaluable and irrevocable currency of understanding and tolerance.
This is George Clooneys masterpiece - and its easy to see why he made it now, as the issues brought out in the movie are so easily transposed to current day. The movie faithfully depicts, through faithful reproduction of his monologues as well as actual footage, the sequence of programmes Ed Murrow made exposing McCarthy and ultimately playing a part in bringing about his downfall. This is mixed with the drama of what was going on behind the scenes and the real cost of telling it like it was at a time when fear was king, and telling the truth had real consequences.
This is a talking heads movie - there is no flash bang effects, or tense scenes. It's all about what was being said, and why it was being said. Even then, you have to listen pretty hard because Clooney has used a verite style of people talking as they do in real life, overlapping and not always talking in neat sentences.. except for those masterful monologues. The movie is in black and white, which does not detract but rather accentuates the drama both by making it feel authentically of its time, and bringing out rich detail of the characters expressions and nuances.. and as a sidenote, cigarette smoke has never looked more beautiful, almost a character in itself at times - how jarring it is to see one of the most respected newscasters, with cigarette in hand while addressing the nation!
The acting is simply perfect - Strathairn is knockout as Murrow, and must have spent ages poring over his newsacst to so faithfully recreate him, and do so with so much heart.
For me the movie had two messages - one, the obvious political one, and the other - the state of television today. There is nothing on TV now that comes close to the intelligence and impact of Murrow's pieces.
Watch this if you want something to spark debate and conversation - don't watch this for a popcorn movie or if you want something exciting or tense. As entertainment, this scores low - as thought provoking cinema, this is first class.