Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)Rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language.
Starring David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr., Frank Langella.
LVJeff's Original Rating: 9/10
Photo ©Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.
When Television Had Potential
George Clooney's second directorial effort, Good Night, and Good Luck, is an assured work of confidence, taking the loose potential revealed in his Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and boldly laying down a concise vision. His first movie was pretty daring, really -- it was a stylish hash of wry comedy, color-conscious visuals, and a strong lead performance by Sam Rockwell, but it also felt uncontained with a wobbly focus. Ideas, it seemed, were just dying to burst forth. With his second movie, Clooney has quickly shown that he can rein in the ideas and present not only a film of efficiency but also one of dramatic integrity.
Good Night, and Good Luck is the story of television journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) during the time he challenged the anti-Communist activies of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Its depiction of Murrow's stand is not one of focusing on struggles with self-doubt as one might usually expect from a story of this kind; Murrow's resolve is resolute, and with it he keeps the support of his loyal news team, the crew of the journalism program See It Now, which includes producer Fred Friendly (Clooney himself). Their fight is with external forces, which consist of the government's "Red Scare" threats as well as the commercial concerns of CBS, a network nervous about courting controversy.
A piece of urgent nostalgia, the movie harkens back to a time when television was in its infancy, when it had great potential that was being uncovered by the likes of Murrow. As Murrow pleads with his peers to maintain television as a powerful tool of information, the sensation of "where did we go wrong" with TV becomes inescapable. The film's look, a formal black-and-white both glossy and gritty with realism, emphasizes the point. It is not only reflective of the look of TV at the time, it's also a contrast with the way it looks today. The wispiness of the musical interludes, the quaintness of the commercials, and the colorless depictions of the inner workings of network television could not feel further away from the world as we know it today. As we watch, we not only long for times past, we desperately crave them.
David Strathairn, fantastic as Murrow, communicates a hard-edge and businesslike gruff along with a deep well of intelligence, thoughtfulness, and honesty. His interaction with his colleagues shows mutual respect and a love of his life's calling. Through his performance, even if you knew nothing of Murrow, you can easily see why Murrow is so respected and well-regarded. Clooney and Strathairn don't waste time with Murrow's personal life or struggles; the man at work is all we need to see; he's fully believable as a human being of rare breed.
One may argue that this isn't exactly honest -- that painting a man as a saint is no better than demonizing him. Although there's something to that, I prefer to see this as mythologization, something movies have been good at since their beginning. Besides, Murrow never feels superhuman, and the focus on him makes him the center of gravity for the film's concerns about the lack of an enterprise as influential as the See It Now team in today's world. Does Good Night, and Good Luck feel a little preachy, then? Perhaps, but we're currently in a state that could use a bit of that preaching.
©Jeffrey Chen, Sep. 14, 2005
Addendum (Jan. 2, 2005)
The following is what I wrote when Good Night, and Good Luck made it to my number 2 spot on my 2005 year-end top 10 list:
Yeah, I know, I had this rated as a 9 out of 10, so what the heck is it doing here at number 2? Well, I suspected that I liked it a lot more than I gave it credit for, because I kept thinking about it long after I had written the review. So I watched it again recently, and I was right -- I really dig this film. Initially, I was held back by, well, its black-and-white simplification -- it is indeed out to unreservedly extol the virtues of Edward R. Murrow. But the conflict here isn't whether or not Murrow was a good person, it's the ongoing struggle to maintain journalistic integrity in the face of mounting obstacles. Murrow, then, is the action hero of the piece, the one we root for once the movie has compelled us to cheer for the reporting of truth. Much of what makes this work comes from David Strathairn's stellar performance as Murrow, which I was thrilled to watch a second time. I like everything about this movie -- it has a point of view and communicates it sharply. I tip my hat to George Clooney for fulfilling the potential revealed from his previous movie.