Memo to self: Come up a with signature sign off
that could double as a movie title.
Murrow: Neither Red Nor Yellow
Two men blow smoke. One blows with a cigarette. The other blows out of his ass.
“Good Night, and Good Luck” brings back black-and-white 1950s, when America is worried over communism threats. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the infamous politician of a hundred pointing fingers, publicly accuses whoever he suspects as communist. Few were willing to stand up for fear of being labeled as communists or communist-sympathizers. Enter TV journalist Edward R. Murrow (a very good David Strathairn), the not-so-intimidated smoking intellect. In the documentary series “See It Now,” he features an unreasonably discharged soldier suspected to have links to communism. The accused man isn’t given any trial due to confidential “evidence.” Murrow points out the violation of the soldier’s rights and tells the viewers straight up what’s the real deal with Senator McCarthy.
“[McCarthy’s] primary achievement has been confusing the public mind as between the internal and the external threats of communism,” Murrow says with conviction. “We must not confuse descent from disloyalty. We must remember always, that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.”
For a Best Pic nominee, “Good Night, and Good Luck” didn’t exactly wow me. The story is admirable but the film is just okay. I think its most clever device is the usage of actual footage. It’s only on these clips, the real McCarthy appears and it’s damn haunting. The use of real actor to play McCarthy would have been less effective. Now, I think this story would have been better told as a documentary. The best scenes are simulation of actual footage anyway and the best lines are from Murrow himself, not the screenwriters’ invention. Just imagine “Grizzly Man” being done as a movie. Why reenact the real thing?
At the risk of sounding young and indifferent, the movie feels also like a history lesson. And while history is an easy path to boredom, I admit it is vital to learn just so mistakes can be avoided. If Clooney implies McCarthyism may soon have a sequel, I don’t see it happening in epic scale. Although when die-hard “Brokeback Mountain” fans claims the surprise Oscar win for “Crash” as Hollywood’s failure to embrace homosexuality, it’s easy to see why accusations without foundation are not easily razed. (I guess “Good Night, and Good Luck” devotees learn enough from Murrow not to accuse “Crash” voters to be commies).
If there’s something we can emulate from Murrow – it’s good sense and courage. They might as well be his super powers since Clooney essentially paints him as a superhero. The newsman is admirably cool and collected during his “battles” with McCarthy. He counteracts the politician’s deadly character assassinations by simply applying lucid reasoning to his arguments. Sometimes I think McCarthy is no match for Murrow. But for a newsman so smart though, he’s dumb enough to smoke a lot. I guess every hero has his kryptonite.
Speaking of smoking, I am reminded of a much superior film: Michael Mann’s “The Insider” – which involved a breakthrough “60 Minutes” report about a tobacco industry’s whistleblower. Whatever “Good Night, and Good Luck” lacks, you can find it here. “The Insider” is more current, more relatable, more intense, more involving, more insightful, more things at stake, and less of a history lesson. “Good Night, and Good Luck” looks old and simple in comparison.
From New York, this is me reviewing. Good evening, and good fortune.
David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Ray Wise, Frank Langella, Tate Donovan, Tom McCarthy, Matt Ross, Reed Diamond, Robert John Burke, Grant Heslov, Alex Borstein, Rose Abdoo
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language