Film - Good Night, and Good Luck

Good Night, and Good Luck

Communists and conspiracies in 1950's television? Steve Taylor-Bryant takes a look back at Good Night, and Good Luck...

George Clooney's black and white film tells more than a historical story, it delves right into extremism amongst a population and the media’s role in reporting it. In 1950's America, a nation was gripped by paranoia and fear and had, as its spokesman, Senator Joe McCarthy, the ex-Democrat turned Republican politician for Wisconsin. McCarthy embarked on a witch hunt, convincing any who would listen that the United States was under attack from within by Communist sympathisers living within all walks of American life. The senator gets taken to task on television by CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and his colleague and producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney). Their highlighting of the Senator’s lack of proof and often aggressive intimidation was a worthwhile cause but a reluctant CBS acted and Murrow and Friendly didn't come out of the situation any better than the Senator, who was eventually censured by his own branch of government.

The writing of Good Night, and Good Luck was phenomenal and the joint penmanship of Clooney and Grant Heslov far surpasses any lack of experience they may have had at the time. Heslov had only written one short at the time but was pretty well known as an actor in the likes of Enemy of the State and Clooney, for his all his fame and talent, had only written a TV movie at that time and only directed one film, albeit a bloody good one in the form of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. The paranoid masses during the Cold War and the government’s naming of anyone liberal enough to stand up to them as Communists doesn't easily lend itself to a film but Heslov and Clooney may have found the one way into that period that didn't really rely on politics with this film, more the relevance of television, that we take very much for granted nowadays, and the influence it was beginning to show it could have, even though it was still relatively in its infancy during the 50's. The power of corporate greed, whilst not overpowering in the script, is also touched upon with CBS's fear of losing advertising revenue and this shows those folks out there who think money driving television is a new phenomenon just how wrong they are.

Clooney also brought a seriousness to the screen in his direction. The way he utilised McCarthy's own television footage, alongside Strathairn as Murrow, was delicately accomplished and, whilst not groundbreaking, I'm struggling to think of a time when it was done better than this. Strathairn as Murrow, live on television as Senator McCarthy is allowed his retort, is one of the film’s crowning glories.

Clooney the actor, whilst convincing as Friendly, takes a step back in his usual role of screen stealer and rightly lets Strathairn ride the waves to critical acclaim for his portrayal of the pioneering journalist. The deftness and calmness of a man taking on a giant of politics has never been so stunningly laid out on screen before.

Along with a who's who of Hollywood cast including Robert Downey Jr, Jeff Daniels, Patricia Clarkson and the wonderful Frank Langella as William Paley (the man responsible for building the Colombia Broadcasting System into the powerhouse of television networks from its humble radio roots) Good Night, and Good Luck raised the bar for biopics and political films to come.

Image - IMDb.