In Good Night, And Good Luck, writer-director-co-star George Clooney and writer-producer Grant Heslov, along with a stellar cast and financiers not averse to risk-taking, have combined to create one of the most original and important American films in recent memory. Overtly political without being preachy, Good Night, And Good Luck is arguably the most important American film since Warren Beatty‘s Bullworth.
Not a biopic, Good Night, And Good Luck tells a story that is but a small part of the lives of its characters but a major part of American history. For a few months in 1953 and 1954, the preeminent newsman of the time Edward R. Murrow, went head to head with the man Murrow delighted in referring to as “the junior senator from Wisconsin,” Joseph P. McCarthy. (“Junior” was accurate, but you can’t help but think it ticked McCarthy off a bit.) McCarthy’s witch hunt of Communists in all facets of American life is well known and documented, and despite revisionist crackpot musings from the likes of
hellspawn conservative pundit Ann Coulter and her ilk, McCarthy was an awful, evil, unprincipled and at the end, crazy man.
Bookended with a speech given at the Radio and Television News Directors Association convention in 1958 when Murrow described and bemoaned the ever growing merger of news, entertainment and advertising, this film documents a rare, almost isolated instance when a journalist overcame the growing influence of sponsors and politicians to expose the dark inner working of the government. A clear allegory to modern times, Good Night, And Good Luck is as much an indictment of the complacency and complicity of modern news organizations as it is of those of the mid-1950’s.
Clooney’s film also manages to impart a sense of style rarely seen in American cinema, a look and feel more reminiscent of the French New Wave than of recent Hollywood films. Filmed in 35mm black and white, the film is shot and directed in a way that evokes the era portrayed in the film in such a way as to make the idea of shooting this story in color ludicrous.
Acting across the board is terrific, which special kudos going out to likely Oscar-nominee David Strathairn (Eight Men Out) as Murrow and Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) as veteran CBS anchor Don Hollenbeck. Strathairn has long been touted as a major award-winner in waiting and Wise’s performance as the tragic Hollenbeck is nothing short of heartbreaking. His expressions alone act volumes and likely bring the audience to tears without him having to utter a word.
Murrow was not a Communist and was not even a “fellow traveler,” the word used by both the left and the right to refer to those with leftist or Socialist leanings while not being “card-carrying” members of the party. His politics were not what drove Murrow, which is what makes this story such a compelling one and a clear display not of right vs. left, but of right vs. wrong. Murrow believed that there were not two sides to every story and that when journalists are presented with what they perceive to be a clear injustice, it is their job to report it and not simply to describe the news.
Like Murrow, Clooney’s film is brave on many levels, not the least of which is in its filmmaking. This is a film almost completely devoid of subplot. It tells one story without the distraction of many side stories and rather than the old saw of “a small story, writ large,” Good Night, And Good Luck is a large story, writ small. Due to the phenomenal reach of Murrow’s CBS broadcasts his stand, along with that of CBS boss William S. Paley (Frank Langella), played a large part in the downfall of Senator McCarthy’s reign of terror when all across America, people realized that they were not alone in opposing McCarthy’s draconian methods.
Of special note is Joe McCarthy, staring as Senator Joseph P. McCarthy. The filmmakers have stated many times that their decision to use actual archival footage of the senator was due in no small part to their fear that no one would believe it if an actor acted as feverishly as the real villain of the piece did during his manic witch hunts. They were right, of course. An important story was told in this film but to be honest, it is just the beginning.
Photo © 2005 Good Night Good Luck LLC
Other blogs on this topic:
Awards A Go-Go: The Silly Season Commenceth And I Get Sucked Into The Silliness from The Rabbi Report
The link below is for an editorial in wrote for indieWIRE in March of 1999, just prior to that year’s Oscar ceremony:
Does Kazan Deserve An Honorary Academy Award?
At the bottom of that editorial, I provided the following information:
To really know the effect of the blacklist is to know some of its victims. If you don’t have a family friend or relative (or even if you do) the following might give you some places to start.
The following are some books on the subject that might be of interest to those who would like to learn more about this period in our history. While three of the four books here are available at Amazon.com, I urge those of you so inclined, to search out an independent bookstore in your town, or visit your local library. They can use your support.
Unrepentant Leftist: A Lawyer’s Memoir, by Victor Rabinowitz. What can I say, Pop made me who I am, in addition to being a hero and advocate for the poor, oppressed, underfed and underpaid people of the world. This kind of praise would make him uncomfortable, but it’s due and accurate.
For European Readers: Unrepentant Leftist CB: A Lawyer’s Memoir / Victor Rabinowitz.
It Did Happen Here: Recollections of Political Repression in America, by Bud Schultz and Ruth Schultz. It did happen here.
For European readers: It Did Happen Here: Recollections of Political Repression in America
Naming Names, by Victor Navasky-A new version, published in 2003.
For European readers: Naming Names: With a New Afterword by the Author
Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting, by Robert Vaughn. Yes, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. wrote a very interesting study of show business blacklisting.
For European readers: Only Victims: Study of Show Business Blacklisting