||Good Night, and Good Luck
2005 - PG - 90 Mins.
|Director: George Clooney|
|Producer: Grant Heslov|
|Written By: George Clooney, Grant Heslov|
|Starring: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, Frank Langella |
|Review by: David Rolston
|Official Site: wip.warnerbros.com/goodnightgoodluck/|
"good night and good luck" is that Hollywood rarity these days, a carefully researched and assembled meditation on history, politics and ideology. The project was clearly a labor of love for writer, director and co-star George Clooney. Clooney was raised in a household where broadcast journalism and the importance of the fourth estate in its role in curbing government excess were both considered to be of tantamount importance -- Clooney's father Nick, was a reporter for thirty years.
Friends, something is rotten in Washington.
Clooney and co-writer/producer Grant Heslov designed the film carefully, focusing it narrowly on six momentous episodes of the prototype news magazine program "See it Now" anchored by Edward R. Murrow, which were broadcast by CBS in 1954.
Clooney and Heslov working with a by Hollywood standards, shoestring budget and razor thin shooting schedule have created a heady film that tries diligently to capture what it was like in the CBS news studios and waterholes. Some have called the film a biopic about Murrow, when in fact it is really only interested in a short but historically explosive period of time when Murrow, the most most recognizable, influential and trusted news figure of his day, decided with Producer Fred Friendly to take on what they perceived as an out of control and illegal campaign lead by Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy to rid the country of communists and leftists. The film painstakingly recreates these historic broadcasts with David Strathairn channeling Murrow’s carefully articulate and literate monologues in a performance that captures the way Murrow looked and talked, but more importantly, the sense of profound gravitas he emanated.
Clooney and Heslov did not want to wander far from their source material, and avoid any examination of Murrow’s personal life. Instead the film, shot in color and printed in black and white to match numerous pieces of the original broadcasts, stays close to the CBS studios and offices. There are hushed discussions around the water cooler, in hallways and behind office doors. This is a film that is not so much interested in what happened as it is about what these people talked about.
The film is short on action, or much in the way of cinematic style, opting instead to rely on detail and meticulous recreation of the period. Like most journalists of the day, coffee and cigarettes were the stimulants used to combat the effects of cocktails consumed the night before, and the air is thick with smoke. CBS featured live Jazz musicians in the studio, and the film features performances by award winning vocalist Dianne Reeves to comment and add texture to what is otherwise a film that goes to extremes to avoid sentimentality.
One of the problems with "good night, and good luck" is that it seems to expect an audience who is at very least, vaguely familiar with the figures involved. For example, Many of Murrow’s news team went on to become legendary figures in the news business, and people familiar with Joe and Shirley Wershba, or Don Hewitt will appreciate the fact that they were apprentices and minor players. Most people I expect will not. There is very little background provided about the McCarthy hearings, or any historical context or exposition. You're just expected to know what was going on. While the cast is certainly filled with bonafied Indie A-Listers from Patricia Clarkson and Jeff Daniels to Frank Langella, Reed Diamond and Tom McCarthy, none of the actors has much of a role (aside from Langella) and primarily operate as set dressing, fading into the background of the newsroom. At best, they manage to reinforce the notion that the 50’s was one hell of a staid and repressed period, even among the cultural elite. Unfortunately, Robert Downey Jr. as Wershba while understated, still seems miscast and distracts from the overall feeling of period authenticity. One can’t help thinking that Clooney could have gone with a cast of unknowns and served the design of the film better.
Clearly, the most dramatic portions of this cautious and overtly subtle film involve Murrow’s battles with CBS head William Paley (Langella) who was none too pleased with Murrow’s decision to challenge the military and government status quo. Paley began to steer the network towards a bottom line oriented approach that viewed news programming as just another form of entertainment rather than a civic responsibility. Murrow was also the primary contributor to this trend, as the host of the seminal “Person to Person” program he hosted, which featured interviews with Celebrities of the day, and became the model for entertainment oriented news magazines, and in particular the Barbara Walters specials. One of the most humorous and ironic moments in the film involves Murrow’s interview with Liberace, with Murrow acting as straight man literally and figuratively to Liberace’s response to a question about his search for traditional fifties style love and marriage. For Murrow, the program was clearly a deal with the devil, allowing him to rationalize the costs associated with the production of hard nosed journalism he was aiming for with “See It Now.”
Despite a somewhat inert dramatic arc, “good night and good luck” is a timely film, and one that will appeal to an audience that is currently underappreciated by the very blockbuster obsessed media conglomerates it quietly challenges. While there were certainly high stakes for those involved at the time, the film isn’t designed to connect with its audience at an emotional level, and is really only interested in provoking conversation and consideration of the role of the news media and in particular, broadcast journalism. The film bookends with a speech given at the tail end of the decade as Murrow had become increasingly outspoken and critical of what he saw as the deterioration of a legitimate broadcast news presence. In Clooney’s summation “Everything he talked about in 1958 is happening now.” Ultimately "good night and good luck" allows Murrow to once again speak to modern audiences, and his words and ideas have never been more relevant.