Saturday, September 24, 2005

Review- Good Night, and Good Luck

A. O. Scott's NY Times Review ofGood Night, and Good Luck Looks like my hunch about this flick being good weren't off. I smell Oscar for David Straithairn. I forgot to mention that it did really well at the Venice Film Festival. . . Opens early October. September 23, 2005 News in Black, White and Shades of Gray By A. O. SCOTT SHOT in a black-and-white palette of cigarette smoke, hair tonic, dark suits and pale button-down shirts, "Good Night, and Good Luck" plunges into a half-forgotten world in which television was new, the cold war was at its peak, and the Surgeon General's report on the dangers of tobacco was still a decade in the future. Though it is a meticulously detailed reconstruction of an era, the film, directed by George Clooney from a script he wrote with Grant Heslov, is concerned with more than nostalgia. Burnishing the legend of Edward R. Murrow, the CBS newsman who in the 1940's and 50's established a standard of journalistic integrity his profession has scrambled to live up to ever since, "Good Night, and Good Luck" is a passionate, thoughtful essay on power, truth-telling and responsibility. It opens the New York Film Festival tonight and will be released nationally on Oct. 7. The title evokes Murrow's trademark sign-off, and I can best sum up my own response by recalling the name of his flagship program: See it now. And be prepared to pay attention. "Good Night, and Good Luck" is not the kind of historical picture that dumbs down its material, or walks you carefully through events that may be unfamiliar. Instead, it unfolds, cinéma-vérité style, in the fast, sometimes frantic present tense, following Murrow and his colleagues as they deal with the petty annoyances and larger anxieties of news gathering at a moment of political turmoil. The story flashes back from a famous, cautionary speech that Murrow gave at an industry convention in 1958 to one of the most notable episodes in his career - his war of words and images with Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. While David Strathairn plays Murrow with sly eloquence and dark wit, Mr. Clooney allows the junior Senator from Wisconsin to play himself (thanks to surviving video clips of his hearings and public appearances), a jolt of documentary truth that highlights some of the movie's themes. Television, it suggests, can be both a potent vehicle for demagoguery and a weapon in the fight against it. Mr. Clooney, who plays Murrow's producer and partner, Fred Friendly, has clearly thought long and hard about the peculiar, ambiguous nature of the medium. It is a subject that comes naturally to him: his father, Nick, was for many years a local television newscaster in Cincinnati, and the younger Mr. Clooney's own star first rose on the small screen. Like "Good Night, and Good Luck," his first film, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" (2002), used the biography of a television personality (Chuck Barris of "The Gong Show") as a way of exploring the medium's capacity to show the truth, and also to distort and obscure it. Indeed, these two movies can almost be seen as companion pieces. "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" suggests that a man with a hard time telling truth from fiction can find a natural home on the tube, while "Good Night, and Good Luck" demonstrates that a furiously honest, ruthlessly rational person may find it less comfortable. Murrow, as conceived by the filmmakers and incarnated by Mr. Strathairn, is a man of strong ideals and few illusions. He knows that McCarthy will smear him (and offers the Senator airtime to do so), and that sponsors and government officials will pressure his boss, William Paley (Frank Langella), to rein him in. He is aware that his reports are part of a large, capitalist enterprise, and makes some necessary concessions. In addition to his investigative reports - and, in effect, to pay for them - Murrow conducts celebrity interviews, including one with Liberace, which Mr. Clooney has lovingly and mischievously rescued from the archives. From that odd encounter to the kinescopes of the Army-McCarthy hearings, "Good Night, and Good Luck" brilliantly recreates the milieu of early television. (Robert Elswit's smoky cinematography and Stephen Mirrione's suave, snappy editing are crucial to this accomplishment.) It also captures, better than any recent movie I can think of, the weirdly hermetic atmosphere of a news organization at a time of crisis. Nearly all the action takes place inside CBS headquarters (or at the bar where its employees drink after hours), which gives the world outside a detached, almost abstract quality. A telephone rings, an image flickers on a screen, a bulldog edition of the newspaper arrives (sometimes it's this one, whose television critic, Jack Gould, was one of Murrow's champions) - this is what it means for information to be mediated. But its effects are nonetheless real. While the camera never follows Friendly or Murrow home from the office, and the script never delves into psychology, we see how the climate of paranoia and uncertainty seeps into the lives of some of their co-workers. Don Hollenbeck (Ray Wise), an anchor for the New York CBS affiliate, is viciously red-baited by a newspaper columnist, and Joe and Shirley Wershba (Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson) skulk around the office like spies (though for reasons that have more to do with office politics than with national security). When Murrow, in March 1954, prepares to broadcast his exposé of McCarthy's methods, the suspense is excruciating, even if we know the outcome. Because we do, it is possible to view "Good Night, and Good Luck" simply as a reassuring story of triumph. But the film does more than ask us, once again, to admire Edward R. Murrow and revile Joseph R. McCarthy. That layer of the story is, as it should be, in stark black-and-white, but there is a lot of gray as well, and quite a few questions that are not so easily resolved. The free press may be the oxygen of a democratic society, but it is always clouded by particles and pollutants, from the vanity or cowardice of individual journalists to the impersonal pressures of state power and the profit motive. And while Mr. Clooney is inclined to glorify, he does not simplify. The scenes between Murrow and Paley, taking place in the latter's cryptlike office, have an almost Shakespearean gravity, and not only because Mr. Strathairn and Mr. Langella perform their roles with such easy authority. McCarthy may serve as the hissable villain, but Paley is a more complicated foil for Murrow - at once patron, antagonist and protector. (Addressed by everyone else, in hushed tones, as "Mr. Paley," he is "Bill" only to Murrow.) Most of the discussion of this movie will turn on its content - on the history it investigates and on its present-day resonance. This is a testament to Mr. Clooney's modesty (as is the fact that, on screen, he makes himself look doughy and pale), but also to his skill. Over the years he has worked with some of the smartest directors around, notably Joel Coen and Steven Soderbergh (who is an executive producer of this film). And while he has clearly learned from them, the cinematic intelligence on display in this film is entirely his own. He has found a cogent subject, an urgent set of ideas and a formally inventive, absolutely convincing way to make them live on screen. "Good Night, and Good Luck" is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). Apart from a little rough language, it is as clean as the television broadcasts it describes. Good Night, and Good Luck Opens tonight at the New York Film Festival; nationwide on Oct. 7. Directed by George Clooney; written by Mr. Clooney and Grant Heslov; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Stephen Mirrione; production designer, Jim Bissell; produced by Mr. Heslov; released by Warner Independent Pictures. Running time: 90 minutes. This film is rated PG. Tonight at 8:15 at Alice Tully Hall and at 9 at Avery Fisher Hall, at Lincoln Center, as part of the 43rd New York Film Festival. WITH: David Strathairn (Edward R. Murrow), George Clooney (Fred Friendly), Patricia Clarkson (Shirley Wershba), Robert Downey Jr. (Joe Wershba), Frank Langella (William Paley), Grant Heslov (Don Hewitt), Ray Wise (Don Hollenbeck) and Dianne Reeves (Jazz Singer).

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home