In 1953, with fear of commnist infiltration at it’s height and Senator McCarthy in the middle of his famous “Witchunts” one journalist, operating in the relatively new sphere of television, decides to speak out against the misuse of the constitution against America’s own citizens.
Good Night, and Good Luck tells the story of Edward R. Murrow’s stance against McCarthy on his “See It Now” news programme on CBS. Leading to McCarthy’s censure from the senate and a victory for journalistic freedom and integrity.
Clooney directs and co-writes with Grant Hislov, the script is seriously pared down. Not an ounce of fat remains. The only thing that matters are the television shows, no character is afforded much of a backstory or even a visible family. Indeed, there is only one relationship outside of the professsional in the entire film. This focuses the action, making every scene vital to the push and thrust of the story. Only clocking in at a genius 93 minutes keeps everything fresh and doesn’t allow peoples opinions to be championed too much. The film simply tells the story of Murrow and leaves the audienct to make up their minds. Credit must go to Clooney for this.
The use of black and white is interesting. In the colour era, the use of back and white has been for a variety of reasons. In Raging Bull, it was employed to highlight how La Motta only came alive in the ring when the palette shifted to colour, the Coen’s Man Who Wasn’t There was all sharp angles and shadow making black and white necessary. Schindler’s List seemed to be monochrome to lessen the horror of the holocaust (which is bullshit) whilst The Good German was a pastiche or at least a throwback to fifties films. Good Night, and Good Luck seems to have had black and white forced upon it by the decision to use archive footage of McCarthy and his trials but it’s worked to an advantage. Set in the very early days of television, it makes perfect sense to stick to this austere method. Everything and everyone looks of that time and fits in perfectly, no mean feat when the marquee names of Clooney And Downey Jr are modern day titans of “colour” blockbusters.
Shot entirely on sound stages (there are no exteriors in the whole film) is a brave choice, keeping a fervent, claustrophobic atmosphere to the piece. The film could work on stage it’s sets are so few and minimally designed. It brings to mind a strange hybrid of Dr. Strangelove and All the President’s Men.
David Stathairn has been working his middle aged, authority figure, calm acting style for three decades and more (personal favourite-Whistler in Sneakers). He lands a peach of a role here, out Murrowing Murrow himself, His delivery of the key speeches are inflected with a quiet passion of a man believing every word he speaks and in the importance of saying them. His eyes tell the story, giving Murrow a clean conscience and a true soul in his actions. He’s ably supported by Clooney, Downey Jr, Daniels as men in suits and by Frank Langella as the owner of CBS, torn between making his network financialy viable and supporting Murrow in his crusade against paranoia and fear.
Good Night, and Good Luck is a film made about a significant period in America’s short history. It’s an important film and a worthy one, both of which are adjectives most films (rightly) seek to avoid. Here it works admirably, highlighting ethics and viewpoints which are still very much required today and the men who stand up to fight for them.