Good Night and Good Luck
And here’s my wife and kids at the Grand Canyon.

Golden Mug

NOMINEE: Original Screenplay (George Clooney & Grant Heslov)

Theatrical Release Date: 10/07/2005
Director: George Clooney
Cast: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, Frank Langella, Ray Wise

It’s time for a little history lesson here at The Sobering Conclusion. In the early ‘50s, Senator Joseph McCarthy helped fuel the Red Scare across America, by naming Communists living amongst the rest of us good Capitalists. Of course, it would have been nice if he had any real evidence and didn’t choose 57 names because of the Heinz ketchup bottle.

While writer/director/producer/co-star/wannabe casino owner George Clooney did not use the Heinz bottle reference, he presented the film “Good Night and Good Luck” to examine how CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow confronted McCarthy about his tactics in finding these subversive elements in our country. (In case you’re wondering, the film’s title comes from Murrow’s sign-off line at the end of each of his news programs.)

There are a couple of things to realize about Murrow making this stand. In 1953, television was just getting started, the medium was still being explored to see what kind of impact it could and should have. The men (sorry ladies, it’s 1953) who brought America its news were not supposed to editorialize. The news was meant to be reported, not created. And finally, anyone who stood up against McCarthy ran the very real risk of being labeled a Communist and either shunned by society or brought up on charges before the U.S. Congress.

These are just some of the things “Back to the Future” did not tackle. (Though a time-traveling Delorean would have been sweet in this movie).

Playing Murrow is David Straithairn. This is easily one of the best performances of the year and that doesn’t come as a surprise to me. Straithairn always brings his A-game and finding a bad performance of his (exclusive of the overall film) is like finding a bad time for me to win the lottery. It’s just not going to happen.

To create the atmosphere of 1950s television, Clooney decided to present the film in black and white. However, as is the case so often now, he did not actually shoot the film on black and white film stock. The film was shot on color film on a grayscale set, then color-corrected in post, according to IMDb.

The result is a muddled composition of images lacking the nuances of real black and white film. The problem may be from the print itself, as many theaters are experiencing excessive ‘shedding’ (where some of the print flakes off inside the projector each time the film is shown). This shedding degrades the sound quality faster than Marty McFly can get to 88 miles an hour and can lead to a reduction in picture quality as well.

Hey, this isn’t only a history lesson, now you know something about the magic of movie projection! Okay, back to the review … geez.

One of the main subplots involves Downey and Clarkson as a married couple who work at CBS together. As with most companies, there was a rule that employees could not be married to one another and so they try to hide that fact. While an interesting footnote, this was not subplot material. It had nothing to do with Murrow’s efforts to expose McCarthy and is wasted celluloid, though the performances are good.

This leads me to perhaps the biggest problem I had with the film, which was that there didn’t seem to be a lot of ground for the film to cover. Really, the battle between Murrow and McCarthy can be boiled down to a couple of broadcasts. While seeing some of the ancillary effects and events provided a much richer tapestry, I think it showed that Clooney was stretching the film to make it a feature length movie. (This was originally set to be a live action television broadcast.)

The movie is interjected with jazz music, mostly performed by Dianne Reeves. Reeves has a gorgeous voice and the music is excellent. But I got the feeling Clooney used it to pad time onto the film’s running time to pass the 1 and ½ hour mark. Or he used it to help keep the audience from falling asleep.

I know that sounds very bad, but the truth about this film is that it is dialogue heavy and done very much like older films, without too much of a score and light on fast paced events. That doesn’t make the movie bad per se, it just is contrary to what is being made in 2005 and I’ve personally always had a problem with films like this because I am a product of the MTV generation.

I need bright lights, loud noises and a thousand jump cuts to keep my eyes open. That makes me a lesser person, but there it is.

“Good Night and Good Luck” is an excellent film, touching on an important subject in American history. It is littered with excellent performances and should be shown in high schools across the nation to both exemplify what the Red Scare did to people and to give the students a day or two where their teacher isn’t lecturing. I would like to give it more but the slow pacing and obvious attempt to stretch the film out for feature length’s sake land this film at a 3 out of 5.