I’m a history geek. As well as studying it for A-Levels, a Degree and now teaching it, I will always watch a film that is trying to re-tell a historic event, mostly for enjoyment but sometimes just to see how accurate the film is actually being. As most probably realise, films usually take a huge amount of “artistic-license” with their history and this is fine, most of the time. Good Night and Good Luck strikes me as a film that doesn’t need to take that “artistic-license” or bend the truth, mostly because the truth is as interesting as any fiction could have been.
The main issue I have is that I don’t actually know the original story or events. I go into this film completely ignorant of the events surrounding Joseph McCarthy and CBS reporter’s Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly. I knew a little of the Communist threat and the “hysteria” surrounding the 1950’s but not enough to judge this film on its historic merits. It didn’t seem to matter though because there was enough footage and archive material to give this film the feel of authenticity.
In fact, the greatest aspect of this film was its perfect execution. There is no heightened drama for the sake of making a film. Moments, like a characters suicide, are not drawn out and shown for dramatic, tea-jerking, reactionary responses but instead represented as factually, accurate and “matter-of-fact” and it fits this film’s style perfectly. It reflects the tireless, thankless work that the CBS reporters did to expose McCarthy’s actions without telling the story as if these men were heroes, crusading against the odds.
The other positive of this movie is the acting. I’m only recently discovering the talents of David Strathairn but he is brilliant as Edward R. Murrow. The moments in the films when he is delivering his evidence, live to the watching nation, are engrossing and for the most part they are nothing more than watching the man read from a script. His delivery and patient outlining of every word, taking breaks only to smoke his cigarette, draw the audience in and are probably the best parts of the film.
He is ably supported by actors like Robert Downey Jr, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels and Ray Wise. Ray Wise deserves special mention as he plays the under-pressure and suspected communist Don Hollenbeck brilliantly. It is also under-stated and played mostly in his face rather than his actions or dialogue.
George Clooney does not just star in the film but also directs and he does a fantastic job. He picks the correct tone for the film, black and white, serious, slow but to allow the story to develop and unravel rather than ramming the facts down the throat of the audience. He also makes the great decision of staging the film almost entirely in the newsroom, rather than have actors also play out the events being reported. It avoided McCarthy being portrayed as a caricature and helped the audience make up their own mind about the events and their accuracy.
Overall, Good Night and Good Luck is a gripping, well acted and brilliantly directed film that draws you in without feeling the need to overly dramatise or fill the screen with emotion. Though I’m no expert on the events its portraying, it gives the impression of being accurate and representing the time well. This is definitely the way to film a historic event that played out in the news rather than live on-screen.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)