Wed October 12, 2005
Good Night and Good Luck
Classic journalism noir
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
Edward. R Murrow represents the epitome of the crusading and self-sacrificing newsman, who risked his career in the 1950's to bring down the most infamous senator of the last century, Joseph McCarthy, the junior senator from Wisconsin and the Chairman of the Senate
Subcommittee on Investigations. McCarthy's witch hunt for "Reds" created cowards by the score and a few heroes, Murrow one of them.
Most journalism and media types hold Murrow in the highest regard, so director George Clooney's left-leaning, hero-worshiping "Good night, and good luck" is not surprisingly pro Murrow and CBS. Clooney brilliantly directs a monochromatic, silvery mise en scene with subtle care, using the camera to record shifts in responses through close-ups and the black and white to emphasize the era and the clash between good and evil. Hmmm, Orson Welles used similar techniques and won himself immortality; there may not be in Good Night those clashing scenes in Citizen Kane that gave it such energy, but there are reflective moments showing Murrow aware of the dangerof confronting a US senator, changing his glance only slightly to show emotion that would have writ large on hammier actors.
Clooney as Murrow's producer, Fred Friendly, underplays a role that he could have easily taken over the top, and Frank Langella as William Paley, the president of CBS, is torn by the exigency of keeping a productive station and the idealism of bringing down a red-baiting senator. Langella effectively shows Paley not so much an idealist but rather a pragmatist who wants to support his rebellious crew but must take into consideration the survival of the station. David Strathairn's stoic Murrow is both a fine imitation and an interpretation on its own, making him a sure shot at an Oscar nomination.
In a way, Good Night is a companion to The Insider, another account of CBS on the dilemma horns as Mike Wallace and Don Hewitt (also present in the current film) go after big tobacco and threaten the survival of the station. Good Night can also be seen as an allegory about repressive government capable of creating crisis when there is none and intimidating anyone not supporting their ruse. The setup for the war in Iraq quickly comes to mind as well as President Bush's "You're either with us or against us" ultimatum.
Allegory or not, Clooney has framed a classic journalism noir film in which the heroes are real and the bad guys scary. Television journalism was the big winner, for it became with Murrow a part of the checks and balances so necessary in a democracy. The heroics serve to highlight the atmosphere of fear today where such heroes are hard to find.
"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty" is a mantra for our times, echoing down the 50 years since Ed Murrow dared to proclaim it. That's heroic in any age.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com