Laurelin's Light

Random Thoughts from a Confessed Film Snob

28 February 2006

Review - Good Night and Good Luck

In case you haven't noticed the pattern, I intend for my first five reviews to be of the five films nominated for Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this year. I had hoped to have the reviews done before the awards ceremony on Sunday night, but I don't think I'm going to succeed. I should have a review of "Crash" up later this week, but I haven't figured out how to watch "Brokeback Mountain" here in Romania yet.

I can't think about George Clooney's film "Good Night and Good Luck" without thinking about Spielberg's "Munich" at the same time. That may seem like an odd pair of films to be stuck together in my mind, but there are a number of striking similarities and differences between them. They are similar in that they are both films based on real event and they both deal with issues which are just as relevant to us today as they were to those who lived through the events depicted.

"Munich" asks us to consider how fighting violence with violence affects the world and how it affects us as people. You cannot walk away from that film without second guessing how much good our current anti-terrorism campaign really does.

"Good Night and Good Luck" raises the issue of media complacency and reminds us that the free media is intended to be the watchdog of democratic society. Even if the people crave fluff - be it interviews with Liberace or 24 hour coverage of the "runaway bride" - it is the duty of journalists to give them substance - such as fearless critique of a senator's scare tactics or unbiased analysis of the veracity of our president's words.

In the cases of both global violence and of societal indifference, Edward R. Murrow's Shakespearean indictment rings equally true: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

The differences between the two films are also of note. While "Good Night and Good Luck" is based on fact which is in the public record, "Munich" is based on a book whose accuracy is highly disputed. The later film is over 2 and half hours long, while the former is just 93 minutes long. "Munich" could have been - and probably should have been - at least 40 minutes shorter and would have been a better movie for it. But Spielberg as a director is over the top and has trouble knowing when too much is too much. My guess is that if Spielberg had decided to make a movie about Edward R. Murrow it would have been just as bulky as "Munich", but George Clooney conceived "Good Night and Good Luck" as a concise, focused film. It gives us the bare-bones story about what happened at CBS when Morrow decided to go after Joseph McCarthy. Clooney didn't feel the need to sex up the story the way Spielberg is prone to do, but rather he understood that the true story was powerful enough to stand on its own.

If nothing else, this year's Oscar contenders are remarkable for the ensemble casts which were brought together to make them. I can't think of a single weak link in any of the three films I have reviews so far. The cast of "Good Night and Good Luck" was spot-on perfect.

David Strathairn (Murrow) has been one of my favorite actors since 1992's "Sneakers" (a highly forgettable film with an unforgettable cast) and it was nice to finally see him featured in such a high profile role. I expect the Best Actor Oscar to go to Philip Seymour Hoffman, but I would be just as happy to see it go to Strathairn,

The actor who most affected me in this film, though, was Ray Wise as the tormented Don Hollenbeck. From the very first time we see his face, we know that things are going to go badly for Hollenbeck. It was wrenching to watch this man trying vainly to hold himself together as he was emotionally unraveling. The fact that the man was courageous enough to publicly associate himself with Murrow's criticism of McCarthy, but too weak to endure the personal attacks of a newspaper columnist is a bitter reminder to us that Hollenbeck was a real victim to a real-life contradiction. Wise's performance is a beautiful epitaph to a man who deserves to be remembered by history.

My only real qualm with the film is that Clooney's direction was a little too self-conscious. There were a few too many shots that reminded us that there was a director at work behind the camera (e.g. it is interesting to see Murrow's image behind him on a monitor as he speaks; we don't need the director to refocus the image to bring our attention to it). Directors should be invisible. If the audience notices the director's "signature" in the course of the movie, then the attention is taken away from the story, which is simple bad storytelling. That is one of the biggest problems which I have with Spielberg (who is far more flamboyant than Clooney) and one of the biggest reasons why I loved "Capote." When watching "Capote" I never once thought about director Bennett Miller because he set up simple, beautiful shots which told his story without trying to show off.

But whatever small flaws I might find with the direction of "Good Night and Good Luck," George Glooney has crafted a masterful piece of political art. His indictment of the news media is especially important since Murrow's predictions about the future of journalism have come true and in this age of info-mation there are no more Murrows left to call us to account.


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