Watching “Good Night, and Good Luck” is like watching Dateline or 20/20. If it doesn’t get you to ask questions and instigate debate, then it has exposed you as ignorant, callous and foolhardy.
Whether or not it is a good movie, however, is a debate in itself.
Directed by George Clooney, “Good Night, and Good Luck” follows Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn), host of the CBS newsmagazine “See It Now” that aired in the 1950s.
It tells the story of how Murrow, when not lounging back interviewing Liberace, dealt with the most controversial and most heated subject of the era, namely, those surrounding the actions of Sen. Joe McCarthy and the rise of anti-communist sentiment and paranoia.
By the mere virtue of its subject matter, “Good Night” is great discussion fodder. Subjects like the politics of paranoia and the media are still hot topics today as they were in the ’50s.
The cast is a great ensemble. Strathairn is engaging as the charismatic and enigmatic Murrow, and his presence on screen commands attention.
Clooney himself joins the cast as Fred Friendly, the news director who coolly and collectedly steers the team into taking on these sensitive issues. (“Next, we’re taking on McCarthy himself.”)
They are also joined by, among others, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson.
Clooney co-pens a phenomenal script that is filled with moments that sparkle with subtlety and nuance.
Stylistically, “Good Night” is top-notch. The movie is presented in beautiful black and white and is beautifully lit from start to finish.
If you were to describe its overall feel in one word it would be: cool. As cool as the jazz singer that belts out a tune every so often to break up the action.
Sadly, this movie suffers from its parts being greater than the whole.
The main problem with the movie is that it is so dependent on context to carry it through, that it doesn’t fall back on traditional movie rules to make it tick.
Those unfamiliar with McCarthyism, with the political and social climate of the era, will find themselves lost about, or worse, detached from, the rest of the goings on in the movie.
“Good Night” isolates itself into a very specific frame of mind that screams of severe elitism. It isn’t meant for general audiences.
You need to have done a lot of homework to get this movie. Otherwise, anyone who doesn’t get it is left on the outside looking in.
Another one of “Good Night’s” flaws, is that its central antagonist, or at least, the person who has to be the bad guy, is stock footage.
Granted, using the real McCarthy lent to the authenticity, but that meant no genuine interaction between him and Murrow. There was none of the nuance an actor could bring to the role.
If you saw Clooney’s directoral debut, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” then you would know his fascination with archive footage.
“Good Night” upscales this love to an almost fetishist level. Granted, they are great clips.
Using old commercials to break-up the action was also a nice touch.
These clips, however, take several minutes of screen time a piece, time that could have been spent on precious things like story flow and character development.
Indeed, the characters don’t go anywhere. There is no development, and while that works in some movies, it doesn’t help “Good Night.”
This genuine lack of context and character development leaves Murrow and his crew seemingly locked in a struggle that only they know the significance of.
What’s worse, they aren’t telling.
Is that the movie’s fault? Perhaps it is.
A few more hints as to what this supposed fear meant could have helped clear up a lot.
A little less on the archival footage and a little more on Murrow and Friendly would have worked too.
This movie is not for the faint of mind.
If you do dare see it, however, good luck.
And good night.
At a glance: 2 stars.