Sunday 5 February 2006

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

Very slick noir flick about the CBS covereage of the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s. Directed by George Clooney with old production colleagues from Ocean's Eleven, the look and feel is sumptuous. Cinematographer Robert Elswit's black and white film stock sets the tone with beautiful lighting, elegant shot set-up, and subtle side-tracking dollies, turning an office environment into visual splendour. Archive footage is skillfully and seamlessly blended in - usually over studio television monitors - much more discreetly than Oliver Stone's JFK.

The film's focus is very narrow, following the brave journalistic decisions of Edward R. Murrow (the majestic David Strathairn) and his editorial team on CBS's flagship current affairs programme, See It Now. There is no attempt to show the wider significance of McCarthy's Communist witch-hunt, or to explain the background to McCarthy's own views. It is a one-sided portrayal, but one that is tremendously compelling - still painfully relevant today. From the eastern side of the Atlantic, it still appears that the American news media do not have the freedom to speak truth to power, so reliant are they on commercial sponsors who have big interests to protect. One wonders, for a nation that prides itself on its constitutional rights of liberty, that a single ideology (even if it was that of "the enemy" at the time of the Cold War) can be so persecuted. In McCarthy's 50s, being Commie was like being a suicide-bomber paedophile. Murrow and his production team, led by Fred Friendly (George Clooney), know they are taking risks in their controversial programmes that aim to reveal the ludicrous frenzy and illogical methodology of McCarthy's senatorial hearings, routing out all the Reds from the Establishment. The journalists are portrayed as having great integrity: they are doing it more in the spirit of liberty and free speech than for their own personal gain; in fact, they know they are jeopardizing their careers. Even if they are factually correct, their temerity to fight the industrial capitalist hegemony will not be allowed to go unheeded and unpunished. (You can see why McCarthy might accuse anyone who spoke out against him of being Communists themselves: essentially, they opposed his conservative capitalist word-view.)

The film has moments of great humour: the occasional one-liner, archaic habit or mannerism, or the blatant advertisements for Kent cigarettes, which quote their own market research back at the "above-average intelligence" of the audience. (It evidently worked because most of the characters chainsmoke as if they're in a Dirk Bogarde movie.)

Around one-third of the movie is without dialogue - either with appropriate jazz soundtrack ("I've got my eyes on you") or with emphases on the actors' body language, which conveys just as much meaning to an attentive audience as a juggernautical dumbfuck's verbal explanation (maybe they didn't run the usual Hollywood test-screening surveys). This movie respects the intelligence of its audience and is all the more respectable for it.

Nugget: impressive piece of cinema all round. Can't really fault it. It chooses a narrow focus (not one allusion to the Hollywood witch-hunt that victimized directors such as High Noon's Fred Zinnemann) and delivers all that it promises, without over-reaching. I assume all this is based on a true story, real events and characters, although I was glad not to be told so and didn't stay to the end of the credits to see what disclaimer there would be.

The title derives from Murrow's summing-up catchphrase, which brings up this movie trivia: does anyone know any other film titles that end with a full stop?

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