VOD film review: Good Night, and Good Luck
James R | On 06, May 2018
Director: George Clooney
Cast: George Clooney, David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr.
Smoke lingers in the monochrome air of a cramped newsroom. In the background, a saxophone accompanies a jazz singer. This is the world of the CBS Corporation, the home of Edward R Murrow. Good Night, and Good Luck shows us this world, replete with the chaos and pressure involved in 1950s news journalism.
The decade is characterised by many things: scotch, cigarettes, jazz, and, in a different arena, Senator Joe McCarthy’s merciless Communist hunt. If accused, you were guilty, judged without evidence or fair trial. Fear gripped the nation’s media, fear of being linked, however indirectly, to the Communist Party. Murrow, though, was one of those to stand up to McCarthy’s authority, exposing the injustice he practised. This film is the story of his battle.
David Strathairn excels in the role, the journalist who places everything in jeopardy in the name of truth. George Clooney ably supports him as a colleague in the struggle. The other actors follow suit, performing brilliantly; the chemistry between the ensemble is as tangible as the lights and TV cameras around them.
Clooney’s dad was a former anchorman, and the respect and affectionate he holds for the profession is matched by the realism with which he presents it. The film centres on the newsroom, with regular broadcasts by Murrow and his CBS team, each flawlessly interlaced with actual news footage of McCarthy. The tension inside echoes the world outside: as McCarthy increasingly jeopardises civil liberty, the studio becomes quieter, aware of what it is fighting. Even 12 years on, the pertinence of that battle for truth and freedom is still painfully raw, and you get the sense that Clooney, making his sophomore directorial effort, is keenly aware of that resonance with the modern world. Rather than hammer it home, though, his masterstroke as writer and director is not to explicitly address it, allowing it to hang in the background, silently looming over these journalists with the clarity of the crisp monochrome visuals.
Pinter-esque pauses in dialogue are frequent, accompanied by scrutinising close-ups – just as in the McCarthy era, when nothing escaped examination, in the world of live television, nothing is censored. From Murrow and the Senator to the executives under pressure to censor controversial content, everyone is affected by what is broadcast, something that’s only emphasised by the presence of TV sets in all of the rooms and corridors. The result is a provocative piece that’s confidently to-the-point, its 93 minutes sitting somewhere between The Crucible, The Post and All the President’s Men. Like the best news broadcasts, it’s precise, purposeful and delivers an important message straight from Murrow’s mouth: “Television can teach, and illuminate, but only to the extent that humans use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely wires and lights in a box.”