Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Movie Review: Good Night, and Good Luck

Good Night, and Good Luck is essential viewing given the circumstances we find ourselves in 2005. In February 1950, Senator Joseph R McCarthy publicly charged that 205 Communists had infiltrated the State Department. McCarthy became the chairman of the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate and began a witch hunt for anyone who had any affiliation, however tenuous, with Communism. He was never able to produce any evidence of his claims but, using very clever rhetoric and arguments, he drove the nation into a state of fear and conformity with some people being persecuted and driven out of their jobs. This cultural milieu in the US became known as the period of McCarthyism. Good Night, and Good Luck tells the story of Edward Murrow (David Strathairn), a journalist for CBS television who teamed up with his producer, Fred Friendly (George Clooney), who, together, decided to expose McCarthy to the American public. George Clooney, the director of the film, has taken a courageous route with Good Night, and Good Luck. The script is spare and presents the viewer with an almost-documentary narrative of the events the movie covers. The entire movie is filmed in black-and-white so that original footage could be seamlessy integrated. Clooney never sensationalises but lets the power of the narrative work for itself. The acting is understated with close-up shots of the characters providing nonverbal clues of the emotions running below the surface and intense dramatic tension. David Strathairn is fantastic as Edward Murrow and George Clooney provides solid support as Fred Friendly. My one criticism of the movie is that it doesn't provide enough of the actual footage of McCarthy himself and his interrogation of innocent people. I fear that, for those who know little of the detail of McCarthyism, it might not have the same potency as for those who do. I would recommend doing a bit of research before seeing the movie (see the Related Links below). Good Night, and Good Luck never draws any explicit morals from its directly presented narrative. But the parallels with modern society, particulary in the US and for us here in Australia, are so obvious they don't need to be made explicit. The culture of fear that has crept into our lives surrounding global terrorism and some of the laws that are being introduced to deal with it bear serious thinking about in the light of the events of the McCarthy era. It is essential that issues such as free speech, the freedom of the press, honesty and integrity in reporting, and the balancing of civil liberties with the need for protection be carefully discussed and examined (check out The New McCarthyism article). Good Night, and Good Luck is a timely movie that does what good cinema should do -- make us think -- and think again -- about the way fear and conformity can paralyse a nation. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'The biggest little movie of the year - and one of the best ever about the news media.' - Jack Mathews/New York Daily News Negative Review 'The film adopts, somewhat insidiously, the myth that life was simpler back in 1953 and '54, and it offers Murrow as a lesson for today.' - Jonathan Rosenbaum/Chicago Reader Content Warning mild thematic elements and brief language (and tons of smoking!) Related Links

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