Good Night = Great Movie

by Alan Rapp on October 21, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Good Night, and Good Luck
  • IMDB: link

good-night-and-good-luck-posterGeorge Clooney has this natural ability to act with such effortlessness; as a director he has taken this same gift and now has made a movie that flows so easily, moves so naturally, that it really is a wonder.  There are still films coming out this holiday season that I have yet to see; I’m not quite prepared to call this the best movie of 2005, but I will say that it is the most important film of the year.

After WWII in the late 40’s and early 50’s America was attacked by the threat of Communism.  One man made it his life mission to root out all Communists and sympathizers out of the government and the media (film, television, and radio).  The country was trapped in a never ending witch hunt where only the inference or gossip was enough to bring you before the self appointed savior of our country, Senator Joseph McCarthy.

In 1953 Edward R. Morrow (David Straithairn) and Fred Friendly (George Clooney), the creative minds behind the CBS news program See It Now, took on McCarthy, calling attention to his methods and motives on live television.  They begin by investigating and reporting on the case of a member of the US Air Force labeled a Communist without trial and without even being allowed to examine and respond to the “evidence” used to convict him.

In a very short time, despite warnings from sources in the government, and his superiors at CBS including the head of the news division Sig Mickelson (Jeff Daniels) and the president and chairman of CBS William Paley (Frank Langella), the two decide the issue is too important to put down, and even offer to pay for the lost advertising money out of their own pockets.  Ignoring reservations of the network, and even some of their own reporters, the two move on to the issue of Joe McCarthy himself.

The film is beautifully shot in black and white adding to the look and feel of the time, this conscious choice of Clooney allowed the film to use original footage of the time in the movie without any color distortion.  It pays off huge as one of the best casting decisions is to not cast an actor as McCarthy but rather only use clips of the hearings and his rebuttal on See It Now.  It’s a remarkably clever decision that shows that the most damaging person to Joe McCarthy was always Joe McCarthy.

The newsroom is populated with oustanding performances from Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson who are hiding their own secret from the world; Tate Donovan, Reed Diamond, and Matt Ross all give strong supporting performances.

The movie does rewrite history to an extent.  It never deals with the issue that these men waited years to actually bring this matter to light, nor does it mention that McCarthy was already on the downswing in popularity by the time the program aired.  The film is also structured in such a way that you might come away with the feeling that Morrow was the only newsman attacking McCarthy, which is rather misleading.

All that having been said, Morrow and his team did produce one of the most important pieces of television journalism in their programs dealing with McCarthy, and the film gives them their just due.  The film is bookended by a speech Morrow gave at an awards dinner.  He neither thanked nor smiled, but rather urged the news community to stay vigilant and to use this medium of television to educate rather than pander.  It’s a wonderful moment and it gives Clooney the chance as a director to talk to what is now the news community and remind them that the duty people like Morrow fought so hard for needs to be upheld, today more than ever.

The movie is shot in black and white so I was predisposed to like it from the opening moments.  There is so much here to enjoy, rich performances, wonderful 50’s era touches, a memorable score, and some of the best direction I’m seen in some time.  I would put Strathairn and Clooney as the favorites on Oscar night, and rightly so.  Aside from being a great film this movie also educates and teaches about one of the most troubling times in American culture.  It does so by not branding McCarthy as a crazed lunatic, which would have been easy enough to do, but instead shows the footage of the man himself and his crusade against the red menace that got so, so far out control.  It is an elegant and important movie that deserves every bit of praise it will receive, and more.

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