Good Night, and Good Luck. Review
By Joe Lozito
Black and White, with Red all over
During the closing credits of "Good Night, and Good Luck." - co-writer/director George Clooney's spot-on portrait of the war of words between CBS newscaster Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy - an older man, who looked like he could easily have lived through the period in which the film is set, turned to me and said, "Heavy stuff, eh?" This wasn't meant as a strike against the movie. In fact, I think he was trying to find out how a younger audience member reacted to it. "Good Night" is not your average historical recreation. It doesn't dumb-down its story or its characters with needless explanation for the benefit of an under-educated audience. The script, written by Mr. Clooney and Grant Heslov, demands attention and, perhaps, a fact-finding trip to the internet after viewing. No, as my co-audience member might have been saying: if you want dumb-down, "Domino" is playing in the next theater.
The film spans a few crucial months during Mr. Murrow's attempt to take on the McCarthy hearings. But one thing should be made clear from the start: this is not "The Edward R. Murrow" story. Though David Strathairn is stoically brilliant as the famed newsman, whose trademark sign-off gives the film its title, we never get to know him or the men of the CBS news team in any depth. The performances are first-rate across the board, with particular kudos to Ray Wise, who does a lot with little screentime as CBS anchor Don Hollenbeck, and Frank Langella playing on his usual villainy as Murrow's boss William Paley. Mr. Clooney himself is an affable background presence as Murrow's producer and partner in crime Fred Friendly.
I never would have pegged George Clooney as a director. It could be that he's surrounded himself with a talented cast and crew (in particular, cinematographer Stephen Mirrione and editor Robert Elswit). It could be the influence of his good buddy Steven Soderbergh, whose own directorial choices have come into question lately. But one way or another, with 2002's "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"
and now "Good Night", Mr. Clooney is proving himself to be a filmmaker of surprising skill and versatility. I hate to say it to such a good-looking guy, but he should really spend more time behind the camera. Mr. Clooney never makes the rookie director mistake of trying to put his personal mark on his film. As a director he stays out of the way, filming this behind-the-scenes view of the CBS newsroom in a documentary style; there is plenty of handheld camera and rack-focusing to go around.
As a writer too, Mr. Clooney makes no strong statements. Almost too a fault, "Good Night" even-handedly presents its story of the David of newscasters versus the Goliath of HUAC. Using archival footage of Senator McCarthy and hinging on the solid performance of Mr. Strathairn, "Good Night", like "Confessions", portrays television as a medium for the presentation or distortion of the truth depending on the hands in which its used.
It's never clear exactly why Mr. Clooney chose to tell this half-century old story. Does something about the McCarthy hearings strike a chord with him? Is he in some way enamored of the cigarette and fedora era that he painstakingly recreates here? Or is he trying to remind audiences, without sounding un-American himself, that the American government always has a few troublemakers flirting with tyranny and that it's the job of the people to stand up and fight? I imagine it's a little of all the above, with special attention - though not enough, for my money - paid to the latter. Heavy stuff, indeed.