At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Good Night, and Good Luck

MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Historical Drama/ Stars: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey, Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels, Tate Donovan, Ray Wise, Alex Borstein, Grant Heslov/Runtime: 93 minutes

It has long been said that the visual mediums that are television and film have always been seen as possessing the ability to be either a means of discourse, an object of entertainment, or both depending on the programming you are engaged in the act of watching. It is also worth noting that at either extreme, media of these two types has also managed to either be an escapism designed to distract the target audience away from reality, or an unyielding realism therefore designed to center the masses towards one specific ideology. Ultimately though these are the type of things that come immediately to mind not only when you watch media in your day-to-day life, but also when you find yourself having to regard a film such as this one. That is because, despite it being an extremely-well cast, very-well directed, and just very well-made film period it is also more than that; it is also a film that attempts to take a page from our history books in order to showcase the very effect that media can have on people, their personal and public lives, and all that is encompassed therein.

The plot is as follows: The film takes us back to the days of the early 1950’s when the Communist scare was at the peak of its reign and the ensuing and subsequent blacklists and rampant accusations were running wild thereby resulting in plenty of ruined lives and careers in the process. Into this mix came a man named Mr. Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) who was the grand master of the news airwaves in the infantile medium of television over at CBS, and who with his show’s director, Fred Friendly (George Clooney) and his production team, manages to stumble upon an obscure news story dealing with an Air Force serviceman who is dismissed due to unspecified charges. So it is from the crucial decision to tackle this story that a snowball will develop that will result in Murrow and CBS essentially taking on first the US Air Force, but eventually none other than the head of this climate of suspicion and presumed guilt: Senator Joseph McCarthy himself.

Now the cast in this movie is nothing short of terrific and everyone it seems feels like they were either top of the list or just handpicked directly by Clooney himself starting with wonderful character actor David Strathairn in the lead role of Edward Murrow. Indeed he may not look like Murrow, but what makes his performance so fantastic is just how wonderfully Strathairn embraces Murrow’s mannerisms from the sidelong glance from beneath lowered eyebrows, the way of sitting perfectly still and listening and watching others, the ironic underplayed wit, and all the way to the unbending will. Indeed it really is a thrill to see this wonderful actor finally find a role that he can call his own. Also turning in wonderful performances amongst the stand-out ensemble are Frank Langella as the seemingly constantly mercurial Paley whose support of Murrow was always tenuous at best in no small part to the controversial nature of the topics Murrow brought up in his program, and Clooney himself as Ed’s long-time co-producer Fred Friendly as he manages to get not only Fred’s one-of-the-guys attitude down, but also the camaraderie shared between him and Strathairn feels natural and similar to the one their characters in real life might’ve shared.  Yet it is with a touch of irony that perhaps the best performance in the film can be attributed to McCarthy himself. This is because instead of bringing someone onboard who could potentially not deliver the gravitas needed for the role, Clooney instead utilizes a true flash of genius and chooses to instead employ actual news footage of McCarthy, who therefore plays himself, and inserts it at just the right moments in the film and it is the absolute best decision that this movie could’ve done. Indeed it is both at equal turns frightening to see him in full rant, and then downright pathetic to see him near meltdown during the Army-McCarthy hearings, and it’s almost karmic in a sense to see the man finally be dragged out and showcased for the monster that he was.

Now also of note and worthy of praise is the cinematography by a man named Robert Elswit in how wonderfully crisp and starkly lit in black and white in its attempts to capture the feel that we are watching more of a documentary about these people than a motion picture. Indeed just the sight of these news professionals typing on old style typewriters or production assistants carrying around film reels instead of videotape or DVD discs is sure to amuse younger people who watch this movie, and evoke feelings of remembrance from those who were around back then. Also the editing by Stephen Mirrione is so tight and well-paced that one wonders what a TV veteran-turned film director like Sidney Lumet or Robert Altman could have brought to the table on a movie like this. Indeed this honestly is one of the first movies I can remember seeing that actually showcases the frenzy of a TV news room better than most that have either come before or after it.

All in all it is an inevitability that sooner or later everything that happens feels like it has happened before, and that it will happen again; almost like an infinite loop as it were. For example: I just wrote for your reading pleasure a review about a film that deals with a specific event in the history of the television medium that took place in an era of our nation’s history that ended about fifty-sixty years ago. Yet, the question then becomes not only how far removed are we as audience members from the actual event, but also what are you to think of this film by itself from my own written thoughts/ramblings, much less the actual events dealing with Senator McCarthy, or even the era he lived and thrived in? Ultimately though and at the end of the day I have no doubt that you, my potential readers, do not wonder about such things, though if you do then hats off to you. For the majority though, you are most likely just merely wondering whether or not this film is any good, and/or if it’s worth your time to see. Therefore I will only say that this is definitely a great movie, and you should definitely watch it should you ever find yourself blessed with the chance to do so. Not just because it’s a great movie, but also because it’s that special kind of movie that will give you and those you watch it with something to discuss when the film is over. On a scale of 1-5 I give Good Night, and Good Luck a solid 4 out of 5.