Monday, January 09, 2006

Good Night and Good Luck - Reviewed by the Five Paragraph Bitter Film Critic

I had no idea Doctor Ross had it in him. In his second directorial effort, he makes an emotionally powerful, socially critical and yet still entertaining film in "Good Night and Good Luck." Based on the battles of Edward R. Murrow and the CBS Television News division's struggles against Senator Joseph McCarthy's hearings on Communism.

The movie does not serve as a historical primer - if anything, the movie assumes the viewer is smart enough to know key facts from the World War II-era and the anti-Communism fervor that swept the U.S. that followed. Murrow was a legendary broadcaster who cemented his legacy as a radio and newsreel reporter in London during the Nazi bombing campaign. He eventually joined the CBS news division in "See it Now" - a sort of news feature show that would precursor the "news as entertainment" shows of today. He could tackle U.S. foreign policy on one week, and then interview Lucille Ball the next. And the film shows this odd duality by hinting at internal struggle within the show's staff, the network, and even Murrow himself. Murrow, played with subtle intensity by David Straihhairn, longs to tackle the substantive issues that McCarthy's investigation affecting the core of the country's legal system, yet has to endure a fluff interview with Liberace. The interplay between the various factions of CBS News - those trying to balance news and entertainment and the revenue stream and even those who weren't sure if McCarthy was entirely wrong - may be the most fascinating depiction of a network ever filmed. William Paley (played by Frank Langella), the legendary head of CBS, had his own debate between trusting Murrow's instincts, pleasing the sponsors and keeping the network profitable. Robert Downey Jr., playing producer Joe Wershba, was concerned that by bringing down McCarthy's witchhunt that CBS might actually be helping the Communists.

Shot in black-and-white, and with a mixture of actors and archival footage, the film seems contemporary and classic at the same time. The lighting shows the newshounds working in darkness to shed light on the committee's actions, and shows the rest of the network in glowing, idealistic light. The cigarette smoke should get an acting credit as you can practically smell the buring tobacco - seemingly every character lights up at least once. However, the smoke, when shot in black and white, adds a level of drama to the morality play on screen.

The whole point of the story is summed up by Murrow's comments during a benefit dinner - television news has the potential to do so much more than it does. He derided the idea of "entertaining news" and wanted to make the medium powerful, not to interview the flavor of the day. His words ring as true in 2006 as they did in 1958.

9 out of 10 Whammies - The only major flaws of the movie was casting MadTV and Family Guy's Alex Borstein and not allowing her to impersonate Lois Griffin or Asian Reporter Tricia Takinawa and a couple of pieces of suspect pacing. Otherwise, it really is as brilliant as people say. Clooney's a damned good director.

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