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Movie Review: Good Night, And Good Luck

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Sometimes a film exudes certain qualities in what seems like effortless fashion. Good Night, and Good Luck is one such film and the qualities it mainly exudes are sophistication, intelligence, and classiness, which add up to one deeply rich motion picture.

Set in the 1950s, Good Night, and Good Luck tells the story of journalist Edward R. Murrow and his team, who use television and broadcasting to try and take down the controversial Senator Joseph McCarthy.

It’s amazing how much a film can captivate and engross a viewer, whether they have any prior knowledge of the subject at hand or go in completely blind. I am in the latter category and I came out very informed and jut plainly better off than I was before. It’s not very often I get to say that about a piece of cinema; usually I either know enough about it beforehand (which is probably the reason I have sought it out in the first place) or the film fails to successfully teach me anything (an example of that being the recently reviewed Charlie Wilson’s War) leaving me feeling like the viewing was a bit on the pointless side if being informational was the intention. Not only are there other worthwhile elements to Good Night, and Good Luck but at its core it seeks to inform and I don’t think it could have been more successful.

Since this is a fictionalized version of a point in history you would expect it to present things as truthfully and honestly as possible. However the track record shows that filmmakers usually exaggerate certain things or even boldly lie about them for dramatic effect, effectively robbing the viewer of any truthful cinematic experience they might have otherwise had, meaning we have little reason to expect anything different. However I am pleased to say that this is one of those rare occasions where, from what I can tell anyway, they don’t really sway from the truth but instead present everything as it actually happened, even if that means you need to pay strict attention to keep up with what’s being discussed at any given moment. The key to replicating a historical event, especially one which involves such in-depth discussion, is to feel like you’re actually there. So many times in movies nowadays conversations feel manufactured because there’s a camera rolling but the script here feels like you are someone right there in the room or you’re eavesdropping on an actual conversation you rightfully shouldn’t be.

To add to the realism, George Clooney, taking his place not only in front of but also behind the camera, refrains from using actors to portray every key figure within the story, instead opting to use archive newsreel footage, particularly of Senator McCarthy. This gives the film an added sense of believability (not to mention making it a lot easier for Clooney himself as the director) and the decision to shoot the entire thing in black and white goes a long way toward giving it both class and sophistication. On a level appreciated by true cinephiles and fans of the classic cinema of the '40s and '50s, the film reminds one, by its look, of much loved films like Citizen Kane or Casablanca. And when a film from this very young 21st century does that I respect and commend it.

This is a fine example of a smaller film catching the attention of fairly big-name actors who forget about a big paycheck for a time and put all their acting talent into their performance. This is evident all across the board, not least of which is with the phenomenal David Straithairn as Murrow. He may be one of the lesser known actors to the wider audience out there but he outshines anyone with the last name of, say, Clooney or Downey Jr. I am not someone in the know about the events that this film recreates or indeed the people involved, but from what I can see, Strathairn not only plays his character but he becomes him. He is clearly very pleased to have gotten the chance to play the lead for once, and kudos for A-lister Clooney for wanting him to do so; he really gets into the nitty-gritty of the man, he gets right under his skin and convincingly portrays someone who was probably very hard to sum up. And people like Clooney, Downey Jr., and Patricia Clarkson, although important players in the overall picture, take the back seat and allow him to just do his thing.

I sense this is a movie that plays to the intellectual movie-goers out there rather than those after merely brainless entertainment. This is less about crashes, bangs, and wallops (in fact there’s an almost deliberate absence of anything remotely like that) and more about presenting an interesting point in history through in-depth conversations and the swapping of facts. Good Night, and Good Luck is an example of refined filmmaking that’s compelling from start to finish, presented in an eye-pleasing fashion and with pitch-perfect performances. And it is a pleasant reminder that movie stars aren’t all about the fat paychecks they so often receive.

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About Ross Miller