good night and good luck (2005)
Good Night and Good Luck is, in all respects, a winner. It's a movie that pretty much came out of nowhere (a bit like last year's Million Dollar Baby) and has immediately become one of the biggest critical hits of the year. It's a finely acted, exquisitely directed, magnificently shot, cautionary tale with as much cinematic smarts as political ones. In short; an absolutely stunning film.
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of older movies, especially those from the 40's and 50's; for someone like me, modern black and white films are, in themselves, a reason to celebrate. I just plain love the look that a black and white presentation gives to a film; the contrast that can be achieved, the way it brings out the lighting: it's perfect. Not since Ed Wood, over 10 years ago, has a black and white film been released that really captures the look and feel of an old movie. Good Night and Good Luck employs the B & W look as a way of further transporting the audience into the 1950's, allowing the film footage to interact seamlessly with the existing stock of interview and commerical footage that is used in the movie. Yes, that's right, when Murrow talks to Senator McCarthy, McCarthy is ACTUALLY played by himself. It's a brilliant tactic of realism, one that few films would have the courage to attempt. The movie was directed by none other than George Clooney, who also stars as one of the news men. I have to be honest, I find him annoying as an actor and I never pegged him as being anything more than charismatic, but it turns out he's actually got some talent. His performance in the film is very good, but it's as a director that he really impressed me. His work here is top-notch. The film itself acts as more of a bio-pic to television broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, but it's the situation and the film's overall themes which become the star. Murrow was one of CBS's most prominent news men in the early days of television. The film opens in 1957 as Murrow is making a speech at a banquet in his honor. He speaks his mind on an issue that is very near and dear to his heart, and proclaims it as a warning to his audience. We are then taken back to 1953 to see the events in Murrow's life that will lead to the powerful words spoken at the film's opening. We're in the thick of the McCarthy hearings and Murrow, along with his news team, are piecing together a story with which to attack McCarthy and his practices on their Tuesday evening editorial program on CBS. Murrow is played astonishingly well by David Strathairn, who inhabits the role completely. I literally never, even for a second, doubted that the Murrow I saw on screen was not the actual Murrow; Strathairn's achievement is in the way he is able to make a human being out of his character, letting the character live and breathe for itself. Unlike some of the other actors, such as Clooney, Jeff Daniels, or (no, this is not a typo) Alex Borstein, who stuck out like sore thumbs in their roles; Strathairn's performance is what really elevates the whole production. The story is compelling, driving steadily toward the knockout conclusion. Murrow and his fellow news men take on McCarthy in their famous broadcast. With the way things were looking about halfway through; alot of footage of the senate holding hearings, I cringed at the thought of this ending up as a court-room drama with McCarthy accusing Murrow of being a communist. Thank God for the road the film ended up taking, because it was absolutely perfect. I really have to hand it to Clooney for the way he constructs his film. The McCarthy storyline was a means to an end. As the film comes full circle in the last 15 minutes or so, Murrow's opening statements resonate through the events on screen with enough power to knock me out of my chair, and I'm immediately left staring at the end credits of a flawless movie.
When releasing a film, it's often said that timing is everything. This holds completely true for Good Night and Good Luck, as many of the events find parallels in today's world, the message sent by the film has never been more timely. It's the tactful way that Clooney presents his moral to the story that gives this film an edge over most of the other films this year that tried to "say something". It certainly puts to shame all of the bumbling incoherence of films like Jarhead or Crash, and stands above them in many other respects as well. It outdoes the competition in spades when it comes to immersing the audience in its world, not with giant CGI burning oil fields, but by the simple and effective use of vintage 50's cigarette and Alcoa commercials intercut into the film, almost as small commercial breaks in the movie. It's the use of the real elements that give this film that extra something and make it great. The film is grainy and dirty, the audio crackles and drops out at points, static builds up in the background of many scenes. I have no idea if there was something wrong with the audio in my showing, or if this was a deliberate flaw; I've heard it was because of the type of film stock used that causes the static build up. Whatever the reason, it all helped to make the film that much more real. The lighting on this film is a true standout, wonderfully done. Many scenes are furthered in their effectiveness by the broken lighting and the heavy use of silhouettes. When doing the show, Murrow is kept in closeup with a stark black backdrop, detatching him, capturing his isolation during the broadcasts. In the screening room, a thick fog of cigarette smoke hangs around Murrow at all times. The film is practically a single-set production; almost all of the action takes place in the news room. The only character ever seen in his home life is Robert Downey Jr.'s character, the only time Murrow and the men leave the station is to have a scotch at the local bar. The bustling news room is captured perfectly, with tracking shots to rival those in All the President's Men. The score sets the tone wonderfully with interludes of slow jazz music. I'd like to find something to complain about on this picture, but I can't.