Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Good Night and Good Luck - Movie Review

While watching "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind", the first film directed by George Clooney, one was able to see glimpses of a good director, showing modest promise. Clooney has come a long way with "Good Night and Good Luck"- his second attempt. Good Night and Good Luck is one of the most gripping, terse 90 minutes I have ever spent before a talking screen. One of the important and the most difficult contributions a director makes to the film is setting and implementing its tone. This film is an achievement of tone and mood.

The movie is based on the legendary face-off between Ed Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy over the actions of House committee on UnAmerican Activities (HCUA) in 1954. Exploiting the cold war hysteria, Sen. McCarthy launched a witchhunt in the early fifties which was aimed at branding and isolating left-leaning intellectuals and artists as communists. This unleashed a reign of terror in which artists such as Charlie Chaplin and Orsen Welles among numerous others were black-listed as communists. There was a growing restlessness among the leading intellectuals and artists against this terror-regime and the methods used to brand people.

Ed Morrow was the host of the weekly news program "See it Now", in which along with his producer Fred Friendly (played by George Clooney), they brought the methods used by Sen.McCarthy and the HCUA under fire. This led to a protracted battle in the media which galvanized the anti-McCarthy sentiments in the American society, which eventually led to the downfall of McCarthy and the US Senate passing a censure motion condemning his conduct by 67 votes to 22.

David Stratharin brings Ed Murrow to life through an inward looking performance of steely resolve. A large part of the movie involves close-ups of his face and his reactions. And his performance serves the film in the best possible way, unobtrusively. The only casting choice which doesn't serve the movie very well is George Clooney himself. At least for me, it was mildly unpalatable to see Clooney in anything less than a leading, larger than life role. And more so to see him play second fiddle to Ed Murrow's character was bit of a reach for me. But, that is only a minor aberration in this genuine achievement.

The movie provides a good window of the inside operations of a television network in the 50's and the argument between the president of CBS and Murrow and Friendly sounds almost innocent in todays standards, considering the role of (or the lack of it) TV networks in the equation of news vs. entertainment currently. This movie joins the illustrious list of movies that expose the inner workings of TV networks such as "Network" and "Broadcast News"

When Murrow and Friendly decide to take on Sen. McCarthy, the TV network (CBS) and the advertisers back-off and Murrow and Friendly are forced to spend $1,500 of their own money to promote the program in newspapers. The scene showing the airing of this live episode is a deliciously orchestrated orgy of great cinematography and editing. At the end of the program, after Ed Morrow signs off with his trademark "Good Night and Good Luck", there is the wonderful scene in which everybody's attention turns to the telephone expecting adverse feedback. The deafening silence that permeates the theater during this wait is one of the those true moments that only cinema can manufacture, and is a testament for what good cinema can achieve.

Note: More information on McCarthyism can be obtained from