George Clooney's McCarthy Movie
Just in time for Oscar season, George Clooney has come up with a film that follows the guidelines for attracting the critical acclaim necessary to garner Academy Award nominations.
Clooney has picked a drama-laden episode in history, specifically the 1950s anti-communist investigations of Senator Joseph McCarthy. He has also chosen to feature an engaging central character, the legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow.
"Good Night, and Good Luck" tells the story of Murrow's televised confrontation with McCarthy.
The film begins and ends with a Murrow speech to his peers that warns of the blending of news and entertainment.
When it comes to the news and entertainment fuse, Murrow is actually one of the pioneers of the showbiz trend with his celebrity interview show "Person to Person," which is deftly depicted in the movie.
Unlike many of today's media types, Murrow understood that individual bias could have an effect on the reporting of facts. In fact, in one instance while on the air, the CBS anchor said: "Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices - just recognize them."
Murrow also said, "A great many people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices."
Interestingly, Clooney's own biases seem to manifest themselves in what he chooses to leave out of his film.
Publicity materials for the movie contain the following slogan: "In A Nation Terrorized By Its Own Government, One Man Dared To Tell The Truth."
Actually those who are of a conservative mind recognize the need for restraint on government. They understand the potential for harm that resides in the unfettered state. And, of course, history demonstrates that during the "Red Scare" period there was good reason to be apprehensive about a lot of things, the investigative excesses of McCarthy being among them.
But the fear of Communist leaders and their agents at that time was literally indispensable to our nation's survival. And although some people unjustly lost work, there were despots who were busy engineering mass murder and who had in their evil intentions the destruction of the United States.
Maybe Clooney avoided factoids such as these because doing so would have jeopardized his Oscar chances. Hollywood is, to put it mildly, obsessed with the era and generally holds fast to a one-sided version.
But, in reality, there were front organizations affiliated with the Soviet Union and operating in the U.S. And the Venona documents, the Soviet cables that were intercepted by Army Signal Intelligence and the N.S.A., confirmed that communist operatives had infiltrated the highest levels of our government.
Setting aside Clooney's omissions, the film has artistic merit that deserves mention. Shot in black and white, it has an appealing stark quality. The crisp 1950s dialogue occurs in dimly lit, smoke-filled rooms. You can almost smell the scotch and cigarettes.
The musical soundtrack is understated, consisting of authentic jazz and featuring vocalist Dianne Reeves. The visuals cleverly toggle from fictional scenes to archival news footage.
David Strathairn plays Murrow. He won a best acting award at the Venice Film Festival and looks to be an Oscar contender. Clooney portrays Murrow's production partner, Fred Friendly.
Because Murrow and his fellow CBS journalists constantly smoked on and off the air, many of the scenes are filled with lit cigarettes and accompanying plumes. (Strathairn, a non-smoker himself, apparently used rolled pipe tobacco on the set because it was not as irritating to his throat and nose and looked great on film.)
In what looks like an effort to placate the anti-smoking lobby, the film includes a real ad for Kent cigarettes that links smoking with intelligence, which elicits an audience laugh. McCarthy appears exclusively in archival footage, which seems to have been carefully selected to show the senator at his worst.
To firmly establish him as the villain, the archival McCarthy responds to Murrow with a series of attacks, accusing Murrow of associating with communist organizations in the past.
Murrow then points out, in his rebuttal, the lack of any factual criticisms in the senator's statements.
The irony for Clooney is that the tactic of avoiding genuine dialogue by using ad hominem attacks, a ploy that his movie so powerfully demonstrates, is most often being used today by his friends on the Left.