Movie Review by Clyde Baehr
Starring: David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr, Patricia Clarkson, Ray Wise
Director: George Clooney
This is George Clooney’s second film as director following CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND. As with his earlier film Clooney is again exploring television’s early days, yet this time around he forgoes quirky humour, bright colour and flashy camera work delivering a sombre, thoughtful drama.
Beautifully shot in black and white GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK is set in 1950s America and chronicles the real-life feud between CBS news anchorman Edward R Murrow (David Strathairn) and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Sparked by the dismissal of a navy pilot, found guilty without trial of being a security risk and asked to denounce his family for their communist links, Murrow and his team of reporters defy corporate sponsorship to broadcast the story and voice their concerns. The broadcast angers Senator McCarthy, chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, who accuses Murrow of communist sympathies. Knowing this to be untrue and intended to scare him and his team off the story Murrow turns his attentions to what he believes to be the inadequacies and lies perpetrated by the McCarthy hearings. With the network at stake Murrow cannot afford to make any mistakes and must ensure that his team be entirely clean of any communist connection.
Anyone hoping to see much of Clooney’s face will be disappointed, as with CONFESSIONS Clooney’s screen time is minimal, offering just enough to warrant his name on the publicity posters. Nonetheless the talent onscreen is impeccable with David Strathairn and Ray Wise subtly providing heart.
GOOD NIGHT is a wordy film and while the politics can get confusing the script is consistently sharp and intelligent, packed with witty comebacks and exchanges. But it’s the moments of silence that are the most revealing, like the held close-ups on Murrow after he has delivered his report and the camera has stopped rolling. GOOD NIGHT’s masterstroke though is to do what Murrow himself did and hang McCarthy with his own words, using real-life footage of the Senator rather than an actor.
The film is not without its faults however. Set almost entirely within the CBS newsrooms we only see Edward R Murrow the professional and learn nothing of his home life or history. Strangely the film does show us the home life of Joe and Shirley Wershba (Robert Downey Jr and Patricia Clarkson), members of Murrows’ team who must keep their marriage a secret from their employers. Accepted this sub-plot does act to illustrate the climate of fear and its idiocy but when other staff members may have bigger, uglier skeletons one has to wonder whether this detraction’s real purpose is to expand bit parts for Downey Jr and Clarkson giving them something more to do.
Tremendously entertaining with a slow-tempo jazz soundtrack and intercut with advertisements from the day, this is a smart political drama that is not reliant on satire and avoids cliche. With Oscar nominations this could be the movie to propel Clooney the director out from under Soderbergh’s shadow.