November 10, 2005
Night, and Good Luck (PG)
By Amy Diaz
Edward Murrow battles the witch hunt politics of Senator Joe McCarthy
and the commercial needs of the television industry in the smart,
well-made, patriotic Good Night, and Good Luck.
Patriotic? Yes. In the same week where I saw Marines cheer like kids at
a matinee at the “Ride of the Valkyries” in Apocalypse Now I felt
exactly the same sense of giddiness watching Murrow and his boys from
See It Now bring down McCarthy because it was the right thing to do for
the country and because they’d had enough of this domestic terrorist. I
didn’t quite stand up and say “Ooh-Rah” but the sentiment was the same.
it’s not just Murrow’s decision to go after McCarthy, to use his own
words and his own shoddy investigations to illustrate the senator’s
senseless and dangerous demagoguery, that makes his fight so
cheer-on-able. It’s his career-endangering stand against his own
network, which even in its golden news age of the 1950s prized
advertiser-pleasing fluff over more abrasive investigative fare. It’s a
rare occasion (the early days of Hurricane Katrina coverage are perhaps
the only recent example) when television reporters break through the
show biz and say “this isn’t right.”
movie begins as Murrow (played with some serious class by David
Straithairn) receives a broadcasting lifetime achievement award and
begins to give a speech that is basically a big smack to the head of
television news. Air scripted interviews with Liberace where you pretend
that he might marry a woman, Murrow essentially says, but occasionally
get out there and report the damn news. Then we flashback to an instance
where he actually does this.
Fred Friendly (George Clooney) and Murrow decide that, despite the
potential harm it could do to both their careers, they will expose the
sinister nature of McCarthy’s “investigation” of the Communist threat.
They do this despite the fact that their investigation is in some ways
one-sided (though they give McCarthy an almost unheard-of ability to
respond unchallenged), something Murrow himself has always said reports
of this kind should never be. But in this case, he argues, there are not
two reasonable sides to the issue and McCarthy’s smear tactics need to
be called out for what they are.
Equally as ominous a foe as McCarthy is network head William Paley
(Frank Langella). Though nominally supportive of Murrow, he is primarily
concerned about the advertisers, something Murrow understands but wants
Paley to occasionally set aside for the public good. It is a struggle
every bit as relevant today.
As dapper as Murrow’s
perfectly tailored suits, as sophisticated as the cigarettes smoked by
everybody (including Murrow, on air), Good Night, and Good Luck
perfectly captures the look and feel of its time. The black-and-white
movie blends flawlessly with the black-and-white footage from the 1950s
(the Liberace interview and the footage of McCarthy is all the real
deal). There is a coolness to the film, a defeated air that seems to
hang on Murrow like his cigarette smoke that keeps the movie from being
smug or self-important. It celebrates Murrow’s small victory but lets us
know that in many ways even the TV news of Murrow’s day was already lost
to the interests of advertisers and their customers.