Sunday, 19 November 2006

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 26th June 2006.

Good Night, and Good LuckIt's only a few months since I saw Good Night, and Good Luck at The Clapham Picture House as part of their members' free preview showings, but it was a good enough film to want to own it on DVD and to hear what co-writer/director/actor George Clooney had to say on the commentary track.

The oscars helped raise the profile of this movie, but one suspects not enough to give it the screen outing it deserved. It's hard to sell black and white 'talking head' movies to a potential audience that for the most part comprises teens raised on a diet of MTV, computer video games and superhero/slasher movies. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big superhero movie fan myself, but variety is the spice of life and the film equivalent of eating ice cream all day gets very tired very quickly. Whenever I get depressed about the sheer volume of lowest-common-denominator tripe that Hollywood turns out these days and which goes on to top the box office in spite of the universally negative reviews, I remind myself that there is still hope while films like Good Night, and Good Luck manage to get made and written about.

The film tells the story of how broadcaster Ed Murrow and his team at CBS took a public stand against the bullying Senator McCarthy in the early 1950's when communist paranoia was at its height in the USA. The subject matter was chosen by Clooney (whose father was a news man himself) as being particularly topical given the modern trend for dumbing down at the cost of any kind of real investigative journalism, with the current US media coverage of the war in Iraq allegedly being the main spark that lit Clooney's directorial fire.

David Strathairn is an actor's actor, and here gives a stunning performance that (for once) genuinely deserved a Best Actor Academy Award nomination allegedly being the spark that lit Clooney's fire. Cleverly, the director uses McCarthy himself to play the role of protagonist, with frequent use of archive footage of the senator showing what a bullying fear-monger the senator was, in a way that, arguably, no recreation with an actor, no matter how gifted, could have bettered. The cast are uniformly excellent, as one would expect given they were chosen by a director who's a leading Hollywood actor himself.

For me parts of the movie didn't work - the repetitive use of shots showing a live music recording to punctuate the drama and underline it lyrically seemed artificial and 'arty' in the wrong sense of the word: after the first couple of times this editorial trick is performed it starts taking you out of the story rather than placing you in it. And the reliance on archive footage, while understandable for McCarthy himself, as well as some of the advertisements and interviews of the time (Liberace is a particularly wonderful gem), doesn't work for the long court scenes that would have been better re-enacted by actors if only because of the poor quality of the original broadcast media.

But these are minor criticisms. A movie that recreates the mood of the 50's so authentically and so beautifully, whilst showing itself to be of direct relevance to us today is to be applauded for just managing to get made!

Sadly, the commentary track on the DVD turns out to be a big disappointment. Co-writers George Clooney and Grant Heslov are old friends, and indulge themselves too much, spending most of the commentary joshing each other about the movie or fellow cast members, rather than actually telling us very much about the movie itself. I learnt that the director of The Station Agent is one of the people photographed in a group at the dinner featured over the opening title sequence, and that the lift scenes are filmed showing different floors by having the lift turned 180 degrees round while the doors are closed rather than moving up and down, and that was about it. Not the best investment of 90 minutes of time!

The DVD transfer is superb, capturing perfectly the beautifully lit scenes of smoke and paranoia, but other than the commentary and a very short featurette that focuses for the most part on a visit of some of the original journalists to the film set, there's little here in terms of extra's. Worryingly, the usual "major movie" discounts don't appear to be available online (this sells for £14.95 where the more typical price for a fairly 'vanilla' release is £11.89) and in fact my usual DVD supplier didn't even have this title available for pre-ordering until just a couple of days before release, where normally there's a good six month pre-booking period. I suspect this indicates that 'Good Night, and Good Luck' is not seen as a big hitter in sales terms, in spite of the media coverage given it because of Clooney's involvement. All of which is a shame, as it's a movie that should be seen by a lot more people than it has been.

Good Night, and Good Luck screencap

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