Good Night, and Good Luck. Review
It's the end of World War II and the Communists have supreme power over most of Eastern Europe. Although during the War they were seen as allies, it was not long afterwards that the West developed a paranoic fear of Russian domination and subversion. This was the start of the so-called Cold War. In light of this, there was a movement in the United States to root out Communists, which was led by a rabid, obsessive Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose modus operandi was basically 'guilty until proved innocent'. Often without trial, his victims were seldom even allowed to vindicate themselves and, even if they were able to speak up, it was very difficult for them to prove their innocence. After all, little over a decade earlier, Communism had been a bastion against fascism so few people remained totally 'clean'.
The so-called McCarthy era led to the blacklisting (which effectively prevented people from finding employment) of no end of famous artists, poets, playwrights, directors and actors, or - worse still - meant that they would be forced to give up the names of their friends and associates, in order to clear themselves. Many tried (and failed) to stand up to the overwhelming steamroller effect of McCarthyism, but one of the few who proved to be effective was a certain CBS radio and TV broadcaster called Ed Murrow.
Good Night, and Good Luck takes you to the height of Murrow's career. It's 1953 and Murrow's news team have picked up on a military story involving a disgraced officer, who was blacklisted after a closed committee hearing that included no evidence whatsoever that he was a communist. Deciding - against the advice of the CBS senior staff and various important military and governmental representatives - to take this opportunity to go after McCarthy, Murrow leads his men into a battle of moral steel against the self-appointed demagogic Senator, for the freedom and the future of the American public.
George Clooney wrote, directed and starred in this thoughtful look at a particularly difficult period in American history. It is a subject which has normally been avoided by Hollywood (perhaps out of part sensitivity and part embarrassment) and I have only really come across one other movie that covered the same ideas - De Niro's Guilty by Suspicion - but this is probably going to be forever known as the definitive movie about McCarthyism. Cleverly constructed and often documentary-like in nature (utilising old news footage of McCarthy and his committee 'trials' rather than having an actor play the famous Senator) we follow Ed Murrow's tough battle against the overwhelming power of McCarthy over half a decade in such intricate, well-observed detail that it is easy to feel right back there in the thick of Communism, paranoia, moral turpitude, apathy and conspiracy. (Of course, a part of this is due to the fact that the West is currently facing rabid paranoia against anybody even slightly Arab in origin, with the new anti-terrorism laws for detention reminiscent of McCarthy's own evidence-less committee meetings).
Clooney himself does not take centre-stage in this piece, instead giving the limelight to David Strathairn, who is utterly convincing as the solid, unflappable Ed Murrow. Quite an underrated actor (barely getting the chance to shine in movies like The River Wild and Sneakers), he is so perfect in the role that I almost wonder whether he was born in the wrong era and would have been better suited to classic black-and-whites. Clooney plays Murrow's producer and friend, aptly named Fred Friendly, who stands by him throughout all the angst, but is quite happy for Murrow to take most of the glory for his fight - in much the same way that Clooney himself has stepped down to allow somebody else to take the starring role.
The only other important character is McCarthy himself and I think it was a wise decision to use real footage rather than an actor to fill the role, but we get plenty of secondary characters filled out by familiar faces. Murrow's cowardly boss is played by a very serious, sober Jeff Daniels (Pleasantville), his team itself comprised of the likes of Robert Downey Jr. (whose comeback following Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is hopefully on a roll now), Patricia Clarkson (Murder One), Tate Donovan (The O.C.), Robert Burke (Robocop 3) and Reed Diamond (Homicide). Frank Langella, soon to be seen as Clark Kent's boss Perry White in Superman Returns, is also on dominant form as the head of CBS and Twin Peaks' regular Ray Wise stands out as one of the victims of the McCarthy tidal-wave.
Good Night, and Good Luck (named after the phrase Ed Murrow used to close all of his network presentations) stands out as a solid drama, entirely centred around a battle of wits and words, ostensibly fought between two men - a David with enough moral tenacity to face his Goliath in a very public forum. I'm sure many readers out there may not be all that interested in this particular sordid period of American history and those expecting guns and guts, or even huge shouting matches, are going to be disappointed, but if you like your drama rich in culture and authenticity and brimming with topical standpoints which will leave your brain in a state of contemplation afterwards then this is well worth a watch.