For those of you out there who enjoy smart, politically relevant, historically based black and white newsroom dramas directed by charming movie stars who used to be on Roseanne, today’s your lucky day motherfucker. Mr. George Clooney is about to climb down your chimney.
GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK is the short and simple story of Edward R. Murrow getting disgusted with Senator McCarthy’s hearings and deciding to use his show to expose them. Some guy called David Straitharn is great playing Murrow, expressing pretty much everything through either facial expressions or the comments he makes on the air. The story is confined almost entirely to the newroom and the bar. It’s not a biography. The only home life is a subplot about a couple who have to hide the fact that they’re married because its not allowed in the workplace.
That actually made the movie more suspenseful for me because for some reason I was too stupid to pick up on the fact that they were hiding their marriage at work. In retrospect it is made completely clear, but I am thick. That’s lucky for me though because the whole time they kept making meaningful glances and dramatic swallows at each other, and I thought they were hiding some other secret, like they were communists or one of them used to be a communist or one of them knew a guy whose name was similar to another guy who once considered himself a communist, but only because he thought communist meant he took communion at church. If they were a good target for commie-baiters it would add more drama to the situation. Their co-workers are taking a principled stand against McCarthy, saying people deserve the right to see the evidence presented against them and that kind of thing. They might feel a little more awkward if they were protecting a real honest to god for sure communist. You know, like Ivan Drago or somebody.
But that’s what makes this movie this movie. They don’t add extra drama to it. You know how some people will shake salt all over their food before they even taste it? That’s what most directors do with this type of story but Clooney keeps a strictly low-sodium recipe. I’m no historian but as far as I could tell they seem to stick pretty close to the known facts. McCarthy and the hearings are only seen in actual footage, no actors. So you can’t say they mucked it up too bad. Clooney said he based the style of the movie on D.A. Pennebaker movies like PRIMARY (come on Clooney, Robert Drew directed PRIMARY. You need to get your fuckin facts straight, like Murrow would’ve). By following those cinema verite classics he gets a very realistic feel.
I liked Clooney’s filmatism on CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND. That one was a little more showoffy but he maybe does even better on this one because it’s more like he’s developing his own style different from his pals Steve Soderbergh and whatsisdick Coenbrothers. The new Clooney style is very quiet and moody without some condescending score to poke you in the ass and tell you how to feel. In fact I don’t think there is a score, just a nice collection of mellow jazz tunes being performed at the bar in the CBS building. Black and white makes you think more of old movies and TV than of real life but the feel is very real because the actors play it real, they talk over each other and they don’t make big speeches unless they’re scripted and on live television. It’s also one of those movies full of real life sounds, clinking glasses, feet shuffling.
If you like either TWELVE ANGRY MEN or NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD you will probaly like this one because it is another black and white movie where guys in white shirts and ties argue with each other.
Also I wanted to mention that the title is the little saying Murrow said at the end of all his broadcasts, kind of like how Jerry Springer used to say “Take care of yourselves, and each other” or Tom Brokaw said, “and that’s the bottom line, you suckers.” There’s really no reason on God’s green earth why that needs to be explained in a review, but since EVERY SINGLE review or article I’ve read on the movie has explained it, I guess that’s what you’re supposed to do. So that requirement’s filled, I can cross that one off the list.
Clooney also co-wrote the movie with Grant Heslov, an actor from REVENGE OF THE NERDS III: NERD’S REVENGE. You might worry these two would make it to preachy because of the obvious relevant-to-our-times subject matter, but that would be a bum rap. The movie brings up a whole shit load of 2005 type issues: fear mongering, blacklisting, self censorship, timid media cowering in fear of politicians, secret testimony, witch hunts, objectivity/bias in news, and of course asshole senators who go around talking shit and then turn out to be more corrupt than a rapper other than Ja Rule who co-stars with Steven Seagal in HALF PAST DEAD.
(note: the rapper’s name is Kurupt, that was not a good reference, sorry. I been drinkin alot of Lightning Bolt today.)
But it never tries to rub your nose in it. They let you draw your own conclusions.
One of the most interesting questions the movie asks that does not have a clear answer is about the idea of opinion in news. You could argue that Murrow’s comments during his newcasts are the same basic thing that Bill O’Reilly does. Of course, Murrow used actual clips, allowed his opposition to speak uninterupted, didn’t shut off people’s mics, wasn’t completely full of shit and most likely never called up one of his producers while jacking off and talking about having falafel in the shower. In fact the two have almost nothing in common at all but they did both interject opinion into their, uh, news shows. In my opinion.
Anyway the point is that the conventional wisdom is that news should try to be objective, and yet almost anyone who is not an idiot is going to respect what Murrow did here. So how do we reconcile that I wonder. hmmm. Maybe the dvd will explain.
I don’t know, maybe this is a crowd pleaser of a movie. There was actually applause at one point when I saw it. Still for me I think there’s exactly one problem, even if it’s an unavoidable one. At least on my one viewing, it feels a little light. Like not as much happens as you usually want in a movie. This is not the whole history of McCarthyism. It starts when the hearings are already underway and ends when the motherfucker’s getting investigated himself. And most of the action takes place purely through Murrow sitting at a desk showing actual archival footage. You already know what’s gonna happen and then with this minimalistic or intimate or whatever exactly type of approach this is, it feels a little bit anticlimactic. A little bit. But if you were gonna solve this problem you would have to spoil the movie. The way Clooney plays it, you can’t take too much dramatic license without throwing the whole thing off. I mean I would not complain if it ended in a big sword fight, but frankly that might not have been as good of an ending as you get here. Even though swords are cool.
I’m going to make one of my famous wrong predictions here, and I’m gonna predict that George Clooney will get a best director oscar nomination. I think he did a great job, but it is not a question of deserving it or not. Those people love to follow all over themselves any time an actor directs and does a halfway decent job. I’m not just talking about Clint Eastwood, who obviously deserves it and is thought of more as a director than an actor these days. I’m talking about Mel Gibson. I’m talking about Kevin Costner. That guy has a best director Oscar. Ron Howard from Happy Days has one. Warren Beatty was nominated. I think Don Johnson was nominated one time, don’t quote me on that. And maybe Ted Danson or one of those guys. So let’s give a nomination to Clooney.
I don’t think he’ll quite win though, for the same reason David Strathairn will be nominated but not win. Sure, it’s amazingly relevant to our times without pushing the issue, but where is the god damn YELLING AND SPITTING? I mean you know, “KING KONG AIN’T GOT SHIT ON ME!” The movie is too subtle. What the fuck clip are they gonna show? He doesn’t yell at his wife. He doesn’t cry. He’s not even in a hospital. Oscar voters wear special glasses where acting is invisible until somebody starts blubbering or throwing a glass against a wall. Sometimes if a retard or invalid crawls onto the screen they can make it out, or if it’s world war 2. But just some guys talking in a newsroom, that’s not acting as far as they can tell. Plus, if it was acting the music would probaly tell them how triumphant and heartwrenching everything was. So clearly this is not acting or directing. Sorry.
I thought it was pretty good though. So if he wants, Clooney can print off this review and put it on the empty trophy shelf in his Italian villa.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.