February 23, 2006

Good Night, and Good Luck

The use of history to shed light on the present might not be a new idea, but it's certainly an effective one.

George Clooney, from behind the camera, uses the communist-hunting McCarthy era to frame his comments about today's media in Good Night, and Good Luck, taking television journalist Edward R Murrow's fight against Senator Joe McCarthy in the early fifties as his subject.

The film is shot entirely in black and white, with lots of heavy dialogue and a minimal soundtrack (aside from some extended jazz pieces away from the main action). The result is a claustrophobic feel that highlights the climate of fear enveloping the journalists who try to question their government.

David Strathairn is spot-on with a convincing performance as the chain-smoking Ed Murrow. He is backed up by a superb supporting cast that includes Clooney himself, Robert Downey Jr and Ray Wise, who gives an excellent performance as the anxious Don Hollenbeck.

While the action remains faithful to the 1950s details - I can't remember ever having seen so much smoking on a cinema screen, for one, and the newsroom is dominated by men - there are obvious parallels between today's world and the one portrayed in the film. Then, America was embroiled in an ideological war that threatened freedoms at home and resulted in a self-censoring media. Today's enemies may have changed, but the debate surrounding the West's reactions to them is largely the same – and the film uses the comparison to powerful effect.

But while there's no doubt about Clooney's intended message, he certainly didn't graduate from Michael Moore's 'bash them over the head with a stick' school of directing. Good Night, and Good Luck has only a few subtle laughs, but it's a fine film with a touch of class.

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