Sunday, August 26, 2012

Good Night and Good Luck(2005)


It has been quite a while since this happened. Few weeks ago, I was with some of my friends and we were talking about movies as we always do. I don't remember how but it came on to Good Night, and Good Luck(2005). It has been more than a year since I saw this movie but since it involved history and politics, two things I am usually interested in, I could remember it vividly and hence I was the one defending that movie. Not that others thought of it as a bad movie but most of us were neutral, some of us haven't even seen it or heard of it. However, one opinion that struck me the most that one of us saying that this movie is so 'weird'. Now, I have seen a lot of movies that I call weird myself. So, I do not have a problem with terminology but I don't think Good Night, and Good Luck qualifies as one of them. If you say that you don't like Black and white movies or political movies, you are missing some great stuff but at least I can understand your reasoning. I seriously do not understand how is this movie weird ? So, here I am writing about it and defending it after having seen it over a year ago because I still think it is a genuinely good movie.

Due to the crippling fear of Communism during 40 and 50s, Senator Joseph McCarthy, then elected member from the state of Wisconsin went on record to say that some of the registered, trained communists have infiltrated United States and are working as Soviet Spy in federal government and elsewhere. He was never able to prove his accusations against any one but he sure sensationalized it. Worst part of the whole ordeal was no one would come forward and defend or even reject his claims for the simple reason of being called communists or at least sympathizers themselves. One of the most important, well-known and respected people to attack the senator for his methods was CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow. Good Night, and Good Luck, a catch phrase Murrow used to end his documentary series See it Now with, is a story of stand Murrow and his producer Fred Friendly took against Senator McCarthy and helped exposing him as a hoax. It all starts with case of Milo Radulovich where he was told either to leave US Air Force or severe any bonds with his father and his sister because his father read some Serbian newspaper and hence is a communist. To make the matters worse, it was claimed that no one in the air force thought it necessary to substantiate these charges with hard truth and he was asked to leave even without giving him a chance to defend himself. When Murrow and Friendly decide to report this, they have to take a decision because this means that they either have to go all in and take the senator or stay outside. When they decide to plunge in, battle ensues. Good Night, and Good Luck starts of and also ends with a beautiful speech by Edward Murrow about the disparity between actual responsibility of Television and then current state of it which just goes on to suggest the integrity of his character, same integrity with which he took on McCarthy not because he wanted to but because it needed to be done.

After Radulovich case, they decide to make McCarthy himself stand in witness box by attacking his own statements and views. They let his own words speak for themselves, just pointing out any factual errors whenever they occur. They also offer him a chance of rebuttal on their own show, if he wishes to. [SPOILER]After few weeks McCarthy does reply but instead of trying to prove himself right, he rather goes on to try and disapprove Murrow by calling him communist sympathizer himself. It is obvious that McCarthy is at the end of his rope and any further hopes he had are soon discarded with Air Force re-instating Radulovich and with US army as well starting its own hearing against McCarthy. Soon after senate voted to censor him[SPOILER END]. With compact run-time 0f 93 minutes, director Clooney almost never sways away from the case at hand. Almost 90% of the movie is in CBS office and most of the time everyone is talking about nothing but business. Even most of the side stories either fit in with the narrative or are there to underline their dedication to job at hand like Murrow agreeing to host celebrity interview show 'Person to Person' to make up for lack of sponsors for 'See it Now' because of their controversial coverage of McCarthy. One side story which has pretty much nothing to do with what's going on around is the one involving fellow CBS reporters Joe and Shirley but it involved Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson and literally takes total 1-2 minutes of screen time. So, I won't be complaining. I love the way they decide in a minute when their secret comes out, as if they knew all along that some day they will be sitting there, in that position and know exactly what to do.

In the acting department, it is through and through Murrow vehicle and David Strathairn does a great justice to it. There may not be any flashy moments of his brilliance but instead he gives us a solid performance for all the 90-odd minutes he is on the screen. When he is on screen going after McCarthy, he looks like a man possessed with a single goal of pursuing the truth, same goal that prompts him to launch an attack on sorry state of television, for being too complacent in the banquet in his own honor - he just HAS to tell the truth. But when he is interviewing celebrities for show that is forced on him, you can also see that he doesn't belong there. There are quite a few supporting roles, George Clooney(Fred), Robert Downey Jr.(Joe), Ray Wise(Don Hollenback) or Jeff Daniels(Sig) that do not have much scope but help in keeping the whole thing tight. However, couple of roles that left their impression on me despite their limited screen time are Patricia Clarkson as Shirley - she is so effortless, so natural in her role that she makes Downey Jr. look tight and Frank Langella as Network Executive William Paley who has to keep check on them and look beyond their need to do public service. As a director, George Clooney has impressed me a lot. Just like last year's The Ides of March(2011), another movie with a political background which should not come as a surprise looking at his own active involvement in politics, he makes it tight, well executed and well-acted. There is no doubt that he is a damn fine actor and I haven't seen the other movies under his belt yet but if these two are any indication he may well turn out to be an equally fine director too. He not only perfectly captures the buzz of TV studio 60 years ago, couple of things that he does different in this movie work out brilliantly - Use of black and white cinematography and using archived footage for McCarthy instead of casting someone which somehow makes it much more relevant and adds a lot of Gravity to it. Once again, I am not the one to comment on use of music and I don't even know if any of them used here were any relevant but use of music is rather peculiar here in a way that every piece of music that we hear is sung on screen.

Even though the events depicted in this movie take place almost 60 years ago and besides my friend calling it weird, one of the reasons I am doing this post today is what Murrow stood for in it is still relevant today. I don't think almost anywhere in the world, television media is what Murrow wanted it to be but I am more concerned about my own country, given the current state of Indian politics with a caricature of a government at its helm. In Murrow's own words "We are currently healthy, fat, comfortable and complacent" and it needs to change. It's time we all need to pull another Edward R. Murrow !

Rating(out of 5):

4 comments:

  1. I really enjoy this one as well. I originally saw it in theaters, but I was the only one in the theater! Nice review!

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    1. And it even had 6 Oscar Nominations. Thanks BTW !

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  2. Can you8 believe I have not seen this? Needs to be rectified

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    1. Guess you have your work cut out for you. :)

      Welcome Back, Scott.

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