Sunday, March 28, 2010

Books And Other Arts Film Review: Good Night And Good Luck

Movie poster image courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures, Wikipedia and Quentin X


The 2005 film "Good Night And Good Luck" has largely been viewed as a George Clooney vehicle. With all due respect to Mr. Clooney, that's not quite an accurate assessment. Clooney did direct and (with Grant Heslov) co-write the screenplay and acted in the film. Based on events that transpired at the height of America's "red scare" of the 1950's, the film is told in flashback. When the film opens, it is a scene at an awards ceremony, a ceremony in which CBS producer Fred Friendly (portrayed by George Clooney) introduces the recipient of the award, the distinguished journalist, Edward R. Murrow (played to perfection by David Strathairn). The film "flashes back" to events in the early part of the decade and Murrow and Friendly's decision (and ultimately the decision of CBS) to "bring down" Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin Senator who led the legislative arm of the American government into "witch hunting" Communists.

The film was made on shoestring for a mere $7.5 million, and by contemporary Hollywood standards, this is a scant sum. One of the reasons the film cost so little to make is that Clooney agreed to be paid the sum of $1 for each of his roles as actor, director, screenwriter, and producer. Because of an injury he incurred on the set of the film "Syriana", he was deemed uninsurable (ironically a practice that would now be illegal) so he mortgaged one of his homes to raise funds for the film. He and Strathairn make a terrific and utterly convincing team as Friendly and Murrow, two consummate journalism professionals who put their careers on the line to bring sense and an objective POV to the American people about "the red terror". Both of these men had families and homes and obvious concerns about their futures. Yet they risked being "targeted" by Sen. McCarthy, whose scruples and motives were less than the common good and what was best for the public interest. McCarthy didn't act alone, had aides and "plants" in the print media business and it's implied in the film that the "hounding" of CBS journalist Don Hollenbeck contributed to Hollenbeck's apparent suicide.

The film is black and white, which is perfect to portray a period in America in which everything seemed to be black and white---but wasn't. About every 20 minutes or so there's a musical interlude featuring jazz singer Dianne Reeves singing at least a few bars of a tune that fits into that particular element of the film. I won't give anything away by mentioning song titles, but I thought this aspect of the film was brilliant and not at all gimmicky.

A sub-plot involving Joe and Shirley Wershba (played by Robert Downey, Jr. and Patricia Clarkson) and the restrictions they endured due to company policies at CBS provides a little comic relief, although even that is portrayed with a fairly serious tone. It provides further historical perspective on how restrictive a time this era was in American history and society.

Everything about this film was absolutely pitch-perfect. Frank Langella and my "neighbor" Jeff Daniels turn in convincing performances as CBS "suits" William Paley and Sig Mickelson who ultimately must deal with fallout from advertisers, investors and viewers. It's a sad commentary that in his speech at the awards ceremony, which concludes the film, Murrow, in his acceptance speech, admonishes the networks for pandering to the viewers' and TV sponsors' clamoring for "entertainment" versus providing the public with actual news. This goes to show, too, that the old adage is, sadly, true: those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

1 comment:

  1. My husband saw this film, I don't remember why I missed it but I am sorry I did ! He said, he really liked it . I will have to see if I can get it on video now.