Friday, September 6, 2013

Movie #210: Good Night and Good Luck

Good Night, and Good Luck is a retelling of a bit of the career of Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn in an Oscar-nominated role) during the time that he was taking on Joseph McCarthy while a journalist on CBS. Directed by George Clooney, who also co-starts along with Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey, Jr., Patricia Clarkson, and Ray Wise.

Murrow and the rest of the news crew at CBS are all uncomfortable - outraged - by McCarthy and the hearings, but there's a strong undercurrent of "well, if we report on this, we're gonna get called before Congress or discredited or blacklisted." Murrow, himself, winds up "buying" the ability to make these reports from his boss, William Paley (Frank Langella) by doing canned "Person to Person" interviews. In the end, though, he makes the reports, McCarthy comes on and lies his face off about Murrow, and Murrow calmly smacks him down. THE END.

(Oh, and there's a subplot with Robert Downey, Jr., and Patricia Clarkson, and they're married and not supposed to be working together, but it feels really tacked on and I think they just added it for length.)

The movie is simple; there's a great deal of drama, but it's not tense - we're looking back, we know how this ends, and the real horrors of McCarthyism don't get shown because that's not what the movie is about. Murrow, in his closing speech, nails it - television can be educational as well as entertaining, but not if you just go for the cheap thrill. He says that he's pretty sure that the American public can handle a little education, a little context, instead of sports or comedy once in a while, and it'll help keep us ground and in touch with the world.

As I mentioned to Sarah and Michelle when we'd watched the movie, though, that's when there are only three channels. You will watch what's on, or you won't watch. Nowadays (and for years prior to nowadays), there is no way to force someone to watch anything, and so it's a race to see who can keep the viewers. And that means crass, loud, stupid, entertaining programming, because it's better to have five idiots watching than one thoughtful, intelligent person.

Sad state of affairs, and I appreciate the movie ending on a note that sets that up. Murrow's final comment in the movie is, like the rest of it, quiet, dignified, and poignant.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. Good night, and good luck.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-low (it's quick)

Next up: The Goonies