Good Night, and Good Luck – 2005
This was a good movie. I’m not denying that. But maybe it wasn’t as good as it thought it was. It was a movie that seemed to be trying too hard to be socially significant. It was a passion project for its writer and director, George Clooney, about the significance and responsibility of the media in regards to educating and guiding public opinion towards opposing social injustices perpetrated by the government. That is a long-winded way of saying that journalists with integrity have a duty to expose the government if it is doing something wrong.
I might be over-simplifying the movie’s main thrust, but the statement remains true. Edward Murrow, played by David Strathairn, was a journalist who started out in radio. One of the programs on which he reported the news was Hear it Now, which changed its name to See it Now when it made the change to the new medium of Television. A pioneer in television news programing, Murrow was a man of honesty and integrity. His program aired on CBS and was a weekly segment. The film starts out as he and his co-workers are looking for stories to cover. Murrow, in a conversation with his co-producer, Fred Friendly, played by Clooney, decided to investigate a man named Milo Radulovich. Radulovich was being separated from the Air Force without charge, trial, or evidence as a security risk because his father subscribed to a Serbian newspaper. According to the film, this was the story that led them into the dangerous waters of the McCarthy hearings.
Honestly, I was unaware of what the hearings were, or what the controversy surrounding them was all about. So it’s time for a little history lesson. Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy was a man who went on a holy crusade against Communism and Communist sympathizers in the 1950s. This was around the beginning of the Cold War and the fear of Communist subversion in the Federal Government was high. McCarthy was a very visible public figure who did his best to root out this threat, often ignoring due process of law, and throwing out reckless and unsubstantiated accusations which hurt a lot of people like Milo Radulovich.
While Morrow was not the only person putting his neck on the line to try to reign in McCarthy and his Red Scare paranoia, he was certainly one of the Senator’s most visible opponents. On his program, Murrow attacked Senator McCarthy and did so in a way that helped to sway the public opinion, leading to the McCarthy hearings, in which the Senator was eventually censured for his unethical behavior.
Strathairn did a fine job in the role of Morrow and was nominated for the Best Actor award, though he didn’t win. Aside from George Clooney, the film also had some other big names to its credit like Robert Downey Jr. as Joseph Wershba, a writer, editor, and correspondent for CBS news, Patricia Clarkson as Shirley Wershba, his wife, Frank Langella as William Paley, Chief Executive of CBS, Jeff Daniels as Sig Mickelson Director of CBS News, Tate Donovan as Jesse Zousmer, a reporter, and Ray Wise as Don Hollenbeck, a CBS News journalist accused of being a communist, which ultimately led to his suicide.
The movie was about an hour and a half long. One of the film’s subplots helped to pad that time, but really had nothing to do with the movie’s overall narrative. It concerned Joseph Wershba’s secret marriage to his co-worker Shirley. It was apparently against the rules for co-workers to be married. Everybody knew of their marriage, but nobody said anything. But when budget cuts called for lay-offs their little secret was addressed so that one of them could lose their job.
Another device used to pad the run-time of the movie was the music. Every so often, scenes of a woman singing with a jazz trio was used to help us through montages. The songs she sang might have been a reflection of the action taking place in the main plot, though sometimes I had to stretch to make the connection. Granted, Dianne Reeves had an absolutely gorgeous voice, enough to make me want to go out and buy some of her recordings, but it sometimes felt like I was taken out of the story for a few minutes to hear her sing. I suppose the segments also served the purpose of setting the mood of the narrative. But removing these segments and the irrelevant Wershba subplot would have cut the film’s run-time down too much.
I liked that the movie used actual news footage from the 1950’s, eliminating the need to cast an actor as Joseph McCarthy. All footage of him shown in the film was really him. This had the unfortunate side effect of Clooney deciding to color-correct the movie to be black and white. I understand why it was done. It was an artistic choice. But I think it could have been just as effective a film if only things shown on a television monitor, like the 1950s footage, or the scenes where Morrow is seen on a TV were shown in black and white.
And just as an interesting note, I read that some of the film’s test audiences felt that the man who played Joseph McCarthy played the part too over-the-top, not realizing that it was actual footage of Senator McCarthy. Now that’s funny.