First, let me just get this of the way: I have no love for this film. In fact, I am still so bored from watching it that I'm afraid all of the built up boredom will carry over into my review. If that happens, it is NOT my fault.
Okay then, now that the disclaimer is out of the way: My pick of films this time around was Good Night, and Good Luck, written and directed by George Clooney. The front cover of the DVD rental says that it was nominated for six Academy awards. Must have been a slow year for movies back in 2005…but more on that in a minute.
Actually, I had every intention on reviewing another film, but of course the local video store didn’t have it, so while wandering the aisles, the cover of a DVD jumped out at me - one with a picture of who I thought was John Cusack. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Cusack, just the surprisingly similar mug of David Strathairn. I should have known then just to put it back on the rack, for it would not be my last disappointment.
The plot centers around 1953, at the height of McCarthyism, when many in the media were accused of being Communist sympathizers. It took one of the most trusted faces in journalism at the time, Edward R. Murrow, to stand up to the tactics of fear and falsehoods used by the McCarthy inquisition.
The movie unfolds like a high school history lesson (i.e. BORING!). Perhaps it would hold more interest to a person who was actually alive during that period in history, but some quick math shows that you would have to be around 70 years old or so for that to be the case. Not exactly a desirable market segment.
Anyway, the interaction in the movie was just pretty much a back and forth between the Murrow and McCarthy camps, each carefully tip-toeing around accusations of fear mongering and Communist influences. There were a few behind-the-scenes subplots involving the production of Murrow’s televised commentaries, but all in all this movie was about a test of wills between two influential historical figures.
One highlight was Strathairn’s performance as Murrow, in which he came off as believable and sincere. Also worth mentioning is that the entire film is shot in black and white, which lent it a bit of authenticity.
Despite my misgivings about the film, it came out to glowing reviews. Checking some of the other movie review sites, I found it also has some critical acclaim. One thing that stood out to me in this movie was the parallels between McCarthyism and the more modern War on Terror. People at the time, especially the media, were hesitant to criticize the government’s questionable tactics, fearful of being labeled as Communist sympathizers. Back in 2005 when this movie was released, the United States was at the height of the Iraq war and was the still feeling the effects of the September 11th attacks (as it is today). I think this might be one reason this film was so readily accepted, because it hit on an undercurrent in American politics at just the right time.
He Said: Skip it. Unless you are particularly interested in this period of history, this movie will offer no new insights (or entertainment) than what we all learned from the text books.
~ The Eskimo
SHE SAID: It's not you. It's me.
When this movie first came out, I guessed that it would be beautifully shot (in black and white), well written, impeccably portrayed (with that great cast) - and boring as hell. And I was so right.
But this movie brings up a great point. There are movies that you are supposed to like - that are nominated for all the top awards (even deservedly so) - that you sometimes just don't. And it's not your fault or the movie's fault. There's just no chemistry there.
The movie begins with the true story of the U.S. Navy's dismissal in 1953 of pilot Milo Radulovich. He was forced out of his position for being a "security risk" because he refused to denounce his father and sister, who were suspected of Communist sympathies. All charges against him were kept sealed, and CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow exposed the story on his news documentary show, See it Now, despite concerns from network executives who feared a backlash.
"I thought it was a good time to raise the idea of using fear to stifle political debate," explained director & co-writer George Clooney (himself a journalism major). "The real teeth of journalism has been missing [recently] but there is still some [good] journalism out there," he said. And there are biting overtones of how, in the Iraq War era, we have hearkened back a bit to that time.
The movie is a bit like a history class - with actual footage of McCarthy and others mixed in throughout. There's little else to relieve the tedium of the lesson though. The only thing that kept me hanging on was the beauty of the medium.
The movie was not actually shot in black and white. It was shot in color (on a gray scale). And as graphic designers know, there is a difference. And it was interesting to see how they mixed together the old clips with the new shots. "At first I wanted the film to look like an [old] Godard film, but then we looked toward Pennebaker docs like 'Crisis' for inspiration," Clooney explained.
I thought it was a bit ironic that the movie knew that you may be bored, and even scolded you a little bit for it. As Murrow said in one speech during the film: "But unless we get off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television, and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late."
I would respond, respectfully, "But, Mr. Murrow, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."
She Said: This is one of those movies that you go see on a date to show someone that you are not one of "those people." You can take a little fiber in your films. You're no intellectual pansy - you can appreciate a laugh that doesn't originate from a fart joke. And you'll both look at each other quizzically at the end - afraid the other actually liked the movie. One of you will finally get the nerve up and say, "OK, that was boring as hell." The other will let out a relieved laugh. (It's OK, though, George. It's not you. It's me.)
After reading each other's reviews, The Eskimo and Shawn always discuss the reviews (and the film, too, of course). Listen to the Good Night, and Good Luck audio commentary here. (And find out which film Shawn picked to review next.)