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Good Night, and Good Luck
35 mm 
Directed by George Clooney. Written by: George Clooney (screenplay), Grant Heslov (screenplay), Fred W. Friendly (uncredited). Starring: David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr., Frank Langella, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Patricia Clarkson, Ray Wise. Japan/France/UK/USA. 93 mins.

By Erik Jansma

Review Top Sheet: Pioneering radio and TV reporter Edward R. Murrow and his team have a go at taking down senator Joseph McCarthy and succeed. True story from the times when journalists were ready to risk something. This is Clooney’s second movie as a director.

Normally, I hate movies with a message, as those messages are mostly personal, idealistic and unrealistic views on how the world should be. George Clooney fortunately takes a slightly different approach to getting a message across. The main character expresses his message and warnings in the past, half a century ago. Clooney skilfully tells us: we should have listened, but we didn’t…


Will you like this film?

Yes if: You don’t mind black and white movies and like sharp dialogs.
No if: You sponsor a TV show or not in the least interested in journalism or politics.
Maybe if: You were once an inspired journalist, but now do the fashion bit in a glossy.

Comments: You have to be up for a bit of thinking and a good discussion over dinner afterwards to like this one. After all, you’re not going to be presented with any luxury such as colour, action, babes and hunks. Moreover, you really have to pay attention.

The story is not very complicated, and basically puts Edward R. Murrow (the main character and hero) and his team in the position of Robin Hood and his gang of likeable, journalist rebels. Already from the first few minutes you can sense that this movie is no action-packed, suspense-filled blockbuster, but is rather trying to tell you something.

The movie at took up all of my attention and filled seats remained filled. The authentic footage of TV commercials from the Fifties that was featured on some moments in the movie added to the mood.

Out-of-five star ratings:
Story: ***
Dialogue: ****
Substance: *****
FilmCraft: ***

Story Comments: The key feature of the story is that it has happened for real. You will either have to know this from reviews, from your own knowledge or from being told so.

The story is introduced in a scene from present time (a speech conducted by the main character in 1959) and then flashes back to 1954, only to return to present time in the last few minutes in order to provide a conclusion and the inevitable message.

Dialogs in the style of Glengarry Glen Ross along with a mix of historic facts and footage tell the story that is actually not really much more than the good guys taking on the big bad evil senator against all odds. The story itself, though, is told in a witty way, and the sharp dialogs and ironic humour provide enough laughing material, without making the film a comedy.

I think the story supports the substance of the movie, as well as the general message that is actually quite serious. However, the movie doesn’t carry any obvious bias or overly moralistic contents. This is quite an achievement of George Clooney (generally known as an actor who gets his colleagues drunk at any given occasion), certainly counting that this is only his second movie as a director.

Dialogue Comments: It is obvious that the cast had fun making this movie and was well played-in. The dialogs are sharp and witty and are full of humour, irony and genuine concern. Which is exactly what they should be, as they make the movie.

In a story about journalistic integrity and, politics and censorship, a lot of philosophical questions can be asked. It was a good choice of the makers to use the dialogs to explore these questions, rather than applying an overly complex storyline.

Some scenes are clearly having rehearsed lines of dialog, but a lot of them seem to be improvised around the plot as well. Certainly some dialogs between David Strathairn and George Clooney too spontaneous to be scripted. The same goes for Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson. But Downey Jr. proves that allowing for improvisation (or was it over-rehearsal?) is nice but too much freedom in dialog leads to mumbling.

Substance Comments: The movie is evidently a plea for journalistic integrity and demonstrates how a small team of professionals can make a change. The (real) footage of McCarthy shows that he was obviously too far-gone in 1954 to be a worthy opponent of sharp analysis and facts, facts, facts…

You can only tell so much in 93 minutes, and therefore some aspects to the witch-hunt and the society in which it took place, remain under-exposed in the movie. Actually, the society being the “See it now” audience and US electorate at the time is absent in the movie. Murrow and his team receive their feedback only by newspapers, bosses and the military office. At no point in the movie, the viewer will receive any first hand information on how the American society in 1954 perceived the witch-hunt and Murrow’s fight against it.

A possible explanation of why this public view is lacking may be an intention by the makers to let the movie viewing audience have some think about what is being laid out in the story. Once the senate finally investigates McCarthy, the movie shifts to the speech by Murrow with which it began. Murrow sends his message to the world, and then you realise that he did so half a century ago. It got me to think about how critical the news coverage nowadays is on issues that do matter and affect us all.

Substance that is relevant and triggers real thoughts is scarce in mainstream movies by mainstream directors. It is nice to come across a movie that does contain this sort of material.

Filmcraft comments: The film contains details. Using a black & white film obviously made the insertion of authentic material easier, but also makes sure that the viewer can more easily concentrate on the storyline and conversations, without being distracted by coloured details. It furthermore gives you the feeling of having an introspection into the 50s news coverage. It’s almost nostalgic.

At some moments, there is a scene of a lady singing slow blues ballads. Funnily enough, the lyrics of the songs (all love songs), seem to apply to the feelings of the McCarthy gang. Once Murrows and his team have decided to run the story that eventually will start the impeachment of McCarthy (a decision motivated by the threats of a US Military Colonel), a sweet, dark voice sings: “I’ve got my eye on you…” Same for the song “You drive me crazy”, after the attack on McCarthy has gone into full-blast modus.

Smoking, finally, adds a cynical touch to the movie. Murrows, always smoking on TV (and off TV), died of lung cancer. An original commercial in the movie will tell you the brand of smokes to avoid…

A taste of the story: Veteran journalist and his team take on a paranoid senator who likes to put those who disagree in electric chairs… They win. But did we?

22.03.06
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