Good Night, and Good Luck,
mins, rated PG, opening in cinemas on 22 December 2005.
By MICHELE ASPREY, Lawyer
(This is my review as published
in the December 2005 issue of The New South Wales Law Society
“Television is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us.”
When was this said? In 2005, about the proliferation of reality TV
programs? In 1995 about the introduction of cable TV? No, it was in
1958 by US TV news journalist Edward R Murrow, speaking about the
decline of TV news reporting.
Good Night, and Good Luck
begins in 1958 and then flashes back 5 years
to tell the story of Edward R Murrow’s struggle against the pernicious
influence of Senator Joseph McCarthy. The film’s title echoes the words
Murrow used to sign off at the end of his weekly TV show, called See it
We did not see the show in Australia, but Murrow’s name is known to
some of us. To me it is synonymous with high quality news reportage,
and chain-smoking. Murrow came to the attention of the public through
his live news radio reports during World War 2 – particularly during
the Blitz. He hosted several TV programs during the 1950s and early
60s. He famously smoked all the way through his broadcasts. He died of
lung cancer in 1965.
Hollywood superstar George Clooney directed, co-wrote and co-stars in
this intelligent and stylish film. It is Clooney’s second directorial
effort. His first was the amusing (and also very stylish) black comedy
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. That film was based on the
TV personality Chuck Barris, who created various popular TV game shows
in the 1960s and 70s, and who claimed to have been a hit man for the
CIA. Like Good Night, and Good Luck,
it mixed vintage TV production and
George Clooney was born to make this film. His father, Nick Clooney,
was an anchorman and news director for many years, and who still writes
for a newspaper. Young George Clooney was familiar with newsrooms from
the age of 5. Murrow was a hero of his father’s. And as an actor,
Clooney got his big break on TV (in the series ER).
Clooney and his director of photography, Robert Elswit, have chosen
black and white film. This is not just a stylistic choice – though it
does give the film a great period feel. Importantly, it allows them to
blend together, seamlessly, archival documentary footage and re-enacted
TV broadcasts. It also allows the villain of the piece, Senator Joseph
McCarthy, to play himself. It works brilliantly.
David Strathairn makes a wonderfully compelling Murrow, and the
terrific ensemble cast includes Clooney as Fred Friendly (Murrow’s
producer), Patricia Clarkson, Robert Downey Jnr, and Frank Langella as
CBS head William Paley. The band playing throughout belonged to
(George’s famous aunt) Rosemary Clooney, and although the singer is
Diane Reeves, the arrangements are Rosemary’s: lush 50s jazz.
It was a canny decision to use, as far as possible, Murrow’s actual
words. Murrow’s broadcasts were well-crafted and are beautifully
delivered here by David Strathairn, but they are not always easy to
follow. This was a man who spoke in complex sentences, and was inclined
to quote Shakespeare. He always had great respect for his audience and
never condescended to it. Clooney as director does the same. He resists
the temptation to simplify: he has too much respect for Murrow for that.
Clooney is interested not only in the question of broadcasting
responsibility, but also in the tendency to use fear to attack civil
liberties, which, he says, we seem to do every 30-40 years. And so,
this riveting and intelligent film about TV in the 1950s has important
lessons for us now. These days we are told that the “War on Terror”
requires us to curtail civil liberties in favour of “public safety,”
and we must consider whether we can live with laws like the US Patriot
Act, and Australia’s proposed new Anti-Terrorism Act, 2005. But perhaps
we would prefer to side with Murrow, speaking nearly half a century
ago: “We cannot defend freedom abroad by destroying it at home.”
This film is a gem. See it now!