During the most recent Oscars Jon Stewart’s joked, “Two of the movies nominated for this year’s Best Picture are about journalists in a relentless pursuit of the truth… and of course they’re both period pieces.” The films he was referring to were Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck, the latter of which is out on DVD this week in a beautiful black and white transfer.
The story of famed television journalist Edward R. Murrow and his on-air battle with Communist baiting Senator Joe McCarthy which led to McCarthy’s downfall isn’t a biography of either man but a narrowly focused story about the power of television of do good and the rights of the state verses person freedom. Shot through a haze of cigarette smoke this quietly affecting story feels so intimate because of co-writer and director George Clooney’s use of extreme close-ups and the choice to set 99 percent of the film in the smoke clouded CBS television studios in New York. This intimacy slowly turns to paranoia as the film takes on a claustrophobic feel that heightens the paranoia felt by Murrow who feels he is not being supported by the upper CBS brass and McCarthy who sees Communists around every corner.
This fifty-year old story feels amazingly fresh and relevant for today particularly in regard to its views on civil liberties and the existence of an acute socio-political chasm in the United States. Clooney, however, famous for his liberal politics, allows his characters to do the talking, but doesn’t preach. When Murrow says “We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason,” it is completely organic to the story and not necessarily a comment on more recent concerns like the Patriot Act. Clooney does what great directors do, he simply tells the story in a very straightforward way and allows the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions.
Good Night, and Good Luck is good entertainment, well acted by David Strathairn and a solid ensemble cast, but, more importantly is also a cautionary tale. Clooney is subtly reminding us that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, or as Bob Marley said, “if you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future.”
Glory Road: 3 Stars. There are certain clichés that people have come to expect from sports movies; the tense final game which usually goes into overtime and the winner and loser are separated by only one or two points; a gruff but caring coach; the misfit team members. Glory Road features all those and more. Very loosely based on the true story of Texas Western coach Don Haskins, who in 1966, led the first all African-American starting line-up for a college basketball team to an NCAA national championship. It’s a good story and an interesting way to present a story about race relations in 1960s America, but filmmaker James Gartner, under the watchful eye of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, adds too much material to this paint-by-numbers script that is geared to manipulate the audience into feeling inspired. That being said, the basketball sequences are good, and Desperate Housewives fans will get a chance to see Mehcad Brooks in a solid supporting role.