Good Night, and Good Luck.
Nathan O'Hagan 20/02/2006
Something a bit odd has been happening in Hollywood lately. Until very recently, the only thing likely to be coming out of Tinseltown was the kind of Multiplex filling fodder you get from Michael Bay and Tony Scott. We're still being deluged by that crap, but alongside it, we're also seeing some of the most challenging and politically charged movies in years. Not since the 1970's with movies like All the presidents men and The Parralax view have we seen Hollywood getting so political. At the forefront of this new movement is George Clooney. Yes, "gorgeous George", "the housewives choice", "the thinking woman's bit of crumpet". Call him what you will, but Clooney not only stars in the forthcoming Syrianna, but he co-wrote, directed and appears in Good Night, and Good Luck.
The film focuses on legendary American broadcast joutnalist Ed Murrow (David Straitharn) who, at the height of the infamous HUAC communist witch hunts, bravely stood up to Senator Joe McCarthy in a series of controversial and career threatening broadcasts in which he eloquently exposed mcCarthy for the bullying, lying megalomaniac he was.
The film handles the subject matter excellently. Clooney's direction is superb, dragging you into the 1950's,with its black and white photography and subtle, unintrusive jazz score. The film also recreates the bustle of a newsroom like few other films have. You can almost smell the cold coffee stale nicotine (Strathairn and most of the cast, are ALWAYS smoking). Clooney's cleverest move though, is the heavy use of actual news real footage of McCarthy and his demented trials.
David Straitharn, who has been giving solid supporting performances in films like L.A. Confidential, The River Wild and The Firm for years, is finally given the chance to play the lead and gives an immense performance. In the hands of a lesser actor, Murrow could have been portrayed as an overly simplified hero. Stathairn however shows a man who, while fearless on camera, is also vulnerable off it. It's a performance of integrity, humour and compassion and one which has deservedly earned him an oscar nomination. He is ably supported by the likes of Robert Downey jr, Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella and of course George Clooney.
While the film may be set in a vividly recreated 1950's, the issues it raises are more than relevant to modern times. The fear of an encroaching enemy from abroad leading to the compromising of civil rights and liberties at home is one we can all relate to in these times of war against terror, while Murrow's closing speech about the duties and responsibilities of broadcast journalism and how they are being eroded and overtaken by quiz shows and dumbed down entertainment (for the $64,00 Question then, read the X-Factor et al today) is worryingly pertinent today.