Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)
Starring: David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr, Frank Langella, Ray Wise, Tate Donovan
Directed by: George Clooney
Good Night, and Good Luck. is a brief, stark, unadorned look into a piece of American history, when famed journalist Edward R. Murrow challenged Communist-chasing Senator Joseph McCarthy. The film clocks in at a scant 93 minutes, is filmed in black and white, is mostly confined to the smokey offices of the CBS News program See It Now, features long stretches of archival news footage (Senator McCarthy is played exclusively by himself), and wound up being one of the most powerful, interesting, and riveting movies I've seen all year.
Most of the film features characters like Murrow (played magnificently by David Strathairn) or co-producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney) speaking in close quarters at great lengths in tight closeups. There are no special effects, no loud moments, not even a score to emotionally guide the viewer, and I found the whole thing absolutely fascinating. These were men laying it all out on the line for something they believed in, defending their ideals and performing their duties while others stood by quietly. When Murrow delivers his summary on the report on McCarthy's questioning tactics on live television, it is as tense and harrowing a moment as I've seen all year. With little more than Murrow's words, Strathairn's performances, and a steady stream of smoke, director and co-writer Clooney managed to outdo Spielberg's alien standoff, Jackson's ape showdown, and even Whedon's space race.
Some reviewers have complained that the film is an incomplete look at both Murrow and McCarthyism, which misses the point of the film altogether. The film is not trying to be a biopic of Edward R. Murrow, nor is it trying to be the definitive portrayal of McCarthyism. Instead, it is quite plainly a polemic on the role of the fourth estate in the political process, and the responsibility they have to keep our elected officials honest. It is no accident that Clooney bookends the film with Murrow's famous 1958 speech at the Radio and Television News Directors Association in Chicago, where he issued a critique of the direction televised news was taking. His words echo as true today in the world of 24 hours news networks dedicated to TomKat and Brangelina while often refusing to ask the hard questions like how a government could use lies to lead the county into war and go unpunished.
Which makes Good Night, and Good Luck. one of the most important films of the year. A free press is a hallmark of democracy. Without a responsible one, democracy crumbles and the demagogues like McCarthy rule in a culture of fear. That reporters like the ones shown in this film stood up to McCarthy's attacks and accusations to defend the democratic process angers you that very few stood up the current administration with their terrorist fear-mongering, through Abu-Gharib and the continued boondoggle in Iraq, but gives you hope when you see the backlash created by the fumbling of Hurricane Katrina, and the current Jack Abramoff scandal.
But the film is more than an hour and a half civics lesson, it is a truly entertaining film, impeccably acted, and tautly directed. I was riveted throughout the entire film, wide-eyed and filled with that lefty glow that comes from watching a movie about a small group of thoughtful committed citizens changing the world in which they live.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)