Good Night, and Good Luck
Black and white films are usually frowned upon by the Hollywood type. So it's rare we get to see one. Which is unfortunate because nine times out of ten they are very fine films; from the raw comedy of "Clerks" to the emotionally tolling story of "Schindler's List." "Good Night, and Good Luck," fits right in with these films in terms of utter superbness. If not for the story telling, simply for the look of the film, the content and the acting.
Clooney's new movie explores the war of words between the crusader against communism, Senator Joseph McCarthy, and CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow. The authenticity is the highlight of this film. From the spectacular looking sets of the CBS studios in the 1950s to the actual archival footage of the senator's words. Throw in a few real commercials from the 50's and you've got something that appears as though it really was filmed in the mid 20th century. Oh, and everyone smoked back then too...everyone. Billowing smoke from lungs, whispy thin lines of smoke from a dangling cigarette, the thick haze of smoke lingering in the room after a twenty minute office meeting (hell, even the film's website features a picture of Strathairn with a flash animation of smoke rising in the air); all were used very stylistically by Clooney and used very well I might add.
Murrow is played by David Strathairn, who may very well garner an oscar nod this year for his portrayal. It was stunning. Stunning. His tone, demeanor and mannerisms, as well as a few whimsical lines of dialogue all contributed brilliantly to Murrow's character. In re-creating Murrow, Strathairn made a careful study of his subject, and reproduced Murrow's style down to the smallest gesture. Clooney used Strathairn's ability to the max with lots of extreme close-ups in which Strathairn's facial expressions are able to express a thousand words. From mostly bit parts in major motion pictures to few larger roles but in small films, this may be Strathairn's "brek-out" role. I use that term loosely as he's been in well over 40 films during his career and also has had a couple larger roles, but I've never seen him as the main player in a big motion picture. I hope "Good Night, and Good Luck" will change all that and we will be graced with his presence in larger roles in larger films.
Besides Strathairn you have a series of great actors who are really just "there." They have no real depth or great lines. They really are just there as supporters of the lead. Clooney tries to incorporate some stories for these other characters, but ulitmately they go absolutely nowhere. In which lies the downside of the movie. The main story just isn't quite intense enough, or long enough, so the writers try to add all this meaningless nonsense to some of the other characters. They actually weren't bad ideas for sub-plots, but they just weren't explored thouroughly enough and therefore end up being a waste of time. Some of the news workers at CBS had some ties to communism, others were engaged in frowned upon relationships while some were just concerned about attacking the government publicly. Some interesting ideas that were briefly acknowledged, then abandoned.
Which brings up the intensity that I thought would be there, but wasn't. As I am not a historian and played paper football through most of my high school social studies classes, I'm only mildly acquainted with the story of Murrow vs. McCarthy. I thought there'd be an opportunity for a face to face engagement between the two, but alas, this was not to be, because as I stated earlier, Clooney decided to use archival footage for all of McCarthy's remarks instead of an actor in his shoes; but also because it probably never happened. So there are shots of the real Sen. McCarthy questioning suspected communists and a brief on air statement he made directed at CBS and Murrow, but it really goes no further than that. So it is very realistic without the Hollywood spinning of the story to make it more edge of your seat. Good thing? Bad thing? You decide.
Clooney has directed a work of pure great cinema. It takes a factual (I think) look at the past, in an almost documentary style tale of media evolution and caution. With unspoken allusions to Iraq, terrorism and even Hurricane Katrina, Clooney reminds us to be mindful of government and media coverage. It's no secret where Clooney lands on the political spectrum, and he makes no secret of with this film either, which in this case is a good thing. Upon my list of best films of the year will "Good Night, and Good Luck" fall safely onto.