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Robert Downey Jr. is all smiles, when he
realizes that in a black and white film, his
parole officers won't be able to notice his
and Good Luck
Review written by: Alex Sandell
Joseph McCarthy was a dick
He was a little nobody Senator from Wisconsin, who made a name for himself by slandering innocent people. Truth was irrelevant to Joe. As long as it would keep him in the spotlight, he'd accuse anyone and everyone to the Left of Nazism of being a Communist. He went after celebrities, he went after the Government, he went after the army -- he went after pretty much anyone who opposed him or his paranoid witch hunt. The man was about as Fair and Balanced as Bill O'Reilly, and he used similar bullying tactics to bring down his "opponents." If he was alive today, he'd fit in well on right-wing talk radio or the Fox News Channel (although they'd probably consider him too "Liberal").
It was when McCarthy made the mistake of taking on prominent television journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) of the popular CBS program, See it Now, that his Red Scare rallying began to unravel. This is where Good Night, and Good Luck focuses its attention. The movie begins and ends with Murrow nearly pleading to his colleagues at a speech delivered to the Radio and Television News Directors Association, to use the potential of television to keep the public informed of corporate wrongdoings and Government corruption.
Fast-forward 50 years, and we have Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy and Hannity & Colmes. We have Enron, Microsoft, Halliburton and George W. Bush. We have the nightly news, but the most hard-hitting stories it sells the American public regard the disappointing box-office returns of King Kong or the ineffectiveness of cough-syrup. But Murrow's words didn't fall entirely on deaf ears. George Clooney and Grant Heslov have written a movie where his words ring loud and clear, and are more relevant today than they were during the dawn of television, when they were first uttered.
Bill O'Reilly is the new Joseph McCarthy
Clooney has become something of a victim of a Neocon witch hunt himself, as of late. Bill O'Reilly's 2006 "New Year's Resolutions" included a biting bit of jealousy regarding George. "We resolve to hold prominent people accountable when they smear others," Said a smug Bill, redefining irony as he went on to smear Mr. Clooney. "Karma is kicking in. For example, left wing zealot George Clooney ran around smearing me to try to bring attention to his movies this season. It didn't work. Fewer than four million Americans went to see his first film. And the second one is shaping up to be a big box office bomb."
Well, Mr. O'Reilly, when the second movie you direct and the first movie you write is nominated at the Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture, Best Director (George Clooney), Best Performance by an Actor (David Strathairn, whose performance was directed by George Clooney), and Best Screenplay (co-written by George Clooney), feel free to run around and call it anything you want, including a "big box office bomb." Those of us living in reality will merely snicker and move on. And you'll find yourself as washed up and out of touch as Joe McCarthy after he decided to take on Edward R. Murrow. Maybe, if you're lucky, you can get your job as an ass-kissing Hollywood tabloid reporter back. Or maybe those bridges have been burned.
And now back to the show ...
Which brings us back to Good Night, and Good Luck. George Clooney took a lot of chances on his second directorial effort. He chose to present the film entirely in black and white. Rather than hiring an actor to play Joseph McCarthy, he used archive footage of the man himself. Nothing would be sweeter than to see McCarthy, who overacted with the best of them on his crusade against the Communist threat, win a Golden Raspberry Award ("Razzie") for Worst Actor of 2005.
This guy huffed and puffed like The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights' William Donohue when he was on TV in December taking the side of Santa Claus in the war against Christmas (a purely concocted "war" made to take the television viewer's mind off real wars, such as the one in Iraq where American troops are dying, or to make them forget about George W. Bush tapping their phones, or cause them to ignore some bigot being appointed the next Supreme Court Justice of the United States). When contrasted with the soft-spoken Murrow, McCarthy revealed to the world what a batty boob he actually was. And his crusade was over (back then, there wasn't a Fox News to hire disgraced politicians as highly paid "political consultants").
Before his fall from grace,
McCarthy caused the folks at See it Now some serious headaches.
Murrow and his staff, headed by his co-producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney)
and reporter Joe Wershba (Robert Downey Jr.), took a lot of heat from CBS
corporate and timid sponsors (are sponsors any other way?) for running a piece
on McCarthy. McCarthy was invited to give his two cents during the segment, but declined. After the
piece received a hugely positive reaction, he insisted on coming on the program,
but refused to be interviewed (sort of like Rush Limbaugh, who is never lacking
for something to say, but refuses to say it to anyone but his avid radio
lemmings listeners). Instead he ranted and raved, accused Murrow
of being a Commie, and all but ended his career in politics.
Good Night, and Good Luck is a low-key film. In no way is it sensationalized. It has what is probably the best ensemble cast of 2005 simply telling a damn good story. It feels more like a play than it does a theatrical film. No one grandstands, everyone just is, and they all come off as genuine characters that are easily relatable.
I think the lack of serious dramatic tension may hurt it at the box-office (still, more people have watched it than have tuned into O'Reilly on his highest-rated night), but its cast and its deliberate pacing lend it credibility rarely found in a Hollywood production. The audience waits for a grand-finale of epic proportions. They wait for a message to be screamed loud and clear. But George Clooney keeps things toned down and ends it with a gentlemanly request for television to harness its power for the good of the people at home viewing.
It's sad that TV has gone in a way that Edward R. Murrow would have never wanted it to have gone. It's sad that Bill O'Reilly's and Joe Scarborough's have taken over and stunk up the airwaves. But Good Night, and Good Luck offers a brief glimmer of hope. It shows that these blowhards finally run out of anything to do but just blow. Their house of cards crumble and they end up nothing more than an embarrassing blemish on the face of America's past. It's too bad they oftentimes leave such a disastrous wake of pollution, prejudice, corporate deregulation, rigged elections, and First Amendment violations behind them, as they exit into oblivion.
Good Night, and Good Luck manages to send out a powerful message without raising its voice, pounding its chest or pointing its index finger. That's something that no political pundit on Fox News, or any of its various clones, could ever pull off (this critic doesn't have such an easy time of it, himself).
Rather than cower from the film, maybe the McCarthyists of today should buy a ticket and do some self-educating. Good Night, and Good Luck is an admirable piece of work that takes a bold stand, not just against events of the past, but events of the present. Hopefully, in the process, it can save the future. The public airwaves belong to the people -- not Walt Disney, News Corp., GE, Warner Bros. and Westinghouse. George Clooney and crew deserve thanks for garnering the nerve to remind evermore complacent Americans of this fact.
There's nothing this movie critic likes more than discussing movies with fellow film fanatics. He's even getting better at replying. Agree? Disagree? Doesn't matter. Let's talk film! Email Alex!
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