movies, music and everything else

This blog is about pretty much what the title implies... movies, music and everything else.

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

I like movies, music and everything esle... ; ) oh... and i can't spell, so, please, no comments

Friday, October 14, 2005

good night, and good luck

George Clooney has hit the ball out of the park on his second try. His first movie, CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, displayed a talent for moving the camera, a unique visual approach, and a strong sense of storytelling. With his second effort, GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK, Clooney has made a movie that actually has something to say. Unfortunately, a movie that has something to say is all too rare in today’s cinema.

There will probably be two groups of people that will walk out of this film. The first is the group that believes that movies are there to first and foremost entertain. These people don’t think that we should be going to the movies to learn or be educated, but that we should go to laugh, cry, cheer and eat popcorn. This group of people will probably find the movie slow, dry and lacking the suspense that they are used to. While they might admire the film for its “importance”, they will be under whelmed and wish that it was more of a thriller. The other group of people believes that movies are capable and maybe even a little responsible to be more than just entertainment. They want a film of substance and importance. This is a film for that group.

This is a movie about one man, the legend of television and radio, Edward R. Murrow, standing up to a giant, Senator Joseph McCarthy during the peak of the communist witch hunt of the early 50’s. While the newspapers had already been attacking the methods of McCarthy, Murrow was the first one to do so through national television, using his weekly show “See It Now”. The movie is book ended by Murrow’s famous speech at the Radio and Television News Directors Association convention in 1958. In this speech, he warned of the dangers of where television journalism was headed and urged anyone who would listen to accept the responsibility necessary and do what was right, rather than what was good for ratings. This speech rings true more today than ever.

GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK is not a biopic about Murrow, but an account of an extremely important event in US history. While showing his faults, it presents Murrow as the hero that he was and calls for people today to have the same courage to step up and do what is right. Playing Murrow is great character actor David Strathairn in a pitch perfect performance. He is an actor that most will recognize, but few will know. A lot of the film is recreations of broadcasts that Murrow did, and Strathairn bears a striking resemblance to the famous journalist. This is not purely a performance of mimicry though, but the difficult task of capturing a legend and presenting him on screen. Since the film is about the event, we never go home with Murrow or get to know him outside of CBS, but we do get to know what kind of person he is and the sense of moral obligation that drives him. Through him and his producing partner Fred Friendly (played in a great, but understated performance by Clooney) we find that going after McCarthy is less of a choice and more of a necessity. They cannot simply stand by and ignore the atrocities that are taking place.

The rest of the cast is filled out with simply great actors. Robert Downey Jr, Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, Frank Langella, and Ray Wise all play important characters in this film, but are relegated to supporting roles. This might bother some people, but the fact is that this is not a movie about them. It is a movie about a battle between two men. Who, you may ask, played the part of the infamous Joseph McCarthy? Well, none other that McCarthy himself. Clooney brilliantly uses actual footage of the senator. We never actually meet McCarthy because as is real life, he was always safely hidden behind the television screen and his imaginary list of communist names. The use of real footage could have easily played as a gimmick, but thanks to Clooney, it just makes the story feel more real and it really puts the audience in the story with Murrow and Friendly.

One of the other big parts of what makes this movie work is the stunning cinematography by D.P. Robert Elswit. He is mainly known for his fantastic work with director P.T. Anderson (Hard 8, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love), but Elswit steps up here and delivers a beautiful film. This movie is in black and white. It that makes you groan, stop reading now, and don’t see this film. The black and white photography really helps in the blending of real and dramatic footage. It makes it so that you believe that Strathairn is Murrow and Clooney is Friendly, just as you know that McCarthy is McCarthy. The bright whites and stark blacks are just beautiful to look at, as is the constant cigarette smoke that swirls in the air. This is a time when every one seemed to smoke and you could and did smoke on the air while reporting the news. Murrow’s program “See It Now” was actually sponsored by a cigarette company. (On a side note: Murrow died of lung cancer in 1965).

Another part of the movie that I loved, but some did not, is the use of jazz music and a lounge singer at points throughout the film. Aside from liking the actual music, it added to the ambience and put you in the time period. The use of the music was almost as important as the use of black and white to capture the early 50’s. In a bold choice, Clooney did not just play period music in the film; he would cut to a lounge singer recording an album at CBS. This was not just a clever trick, but it kept the feeling of realism to what we were watching. He incorporated the music into the world.

This film might be dismissed as nothing more than a documentary. It is so much more than that. Watching this film reminded me of what Truman Capote did for writing with his masterpiece “In Cold Blood”, basically creating the genre of the non-fiction novel. This is a docu-drama. That is not a bad thing. ALL OF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED! That alone makes it more compelling than most any movie that will be made this year.

It is obvious that this was a very important and personal movie for Clooney. Like Murrow, this was not a story that he had a choice in telling. In today’s political climate, he found it necessary to tell this story. That passion comes across in the film. I hope that people not only see this film, but pay attention to what it has to say, because it is all too rare that a movie actually has something to say. Not only does GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK have something to say, but also says it with confidence and intelligence.

I will end with a quote from Murrow's speech to the Radio and Television News Directors Association in 1958...
"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."


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