2005 / Best Actor / Best Director / Best Picture

Film #452: Good Night and Good Luck (2005)

We first met George Clooney back in the 1990s when he was one of many actors who had a bit part in The Thin Red Line. At the time Clooney was beginning to breakthrough into movies after coming to prominence as Dr. Doug Ross in E.R. Finishing his tenure with the show at the end of 1999; Clooney ascended to movie star status during the early 21st century. In 2002 he directed his first film, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and three years later would helm his second feature which netted him a Best Director nod.

That film was Good Night and Good Luck; which earned six nominations in all including two for Clooney in both the directing and screenwriting categories. Clooney also starred in the film as Fred Friendly the co-producer of notorious broadcaster Edward R. Morrow. The story focuses on Morrow’s various attacks on Senator Joseph McCarthy and in particular his criticism of the scaremongering tactics that were being employed by his administration. The war begins when Morrow criticises McCarthy’s prosecution of a young officer without having any proof of his wrongdoings. Their battle intensifies when McCarthy outright accuses Morrow of having communist leanings to which the host of ‘See it Now’ totally denies. Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov’s script looks at the effects of this war of words on both the CBS network and Murrow’s colleagues on the ‘See it Now’ show. These include Joseph and Shirley; a married couple who have to keep their relationship a secret from their colleagues due to CBS guidelines. Also featured heavily is CBS journalist Don Hellenbeck, who is criticised in the press for being a ‘pinko’ and who ultimately commits suicide. In my opinion it’s the relationship between the staff members that makes Good Night and Good Luck so successful especially when you come to realise they’re like a little family. I especially liked the loyalty displayed by CBS Boss William Palley, the father figure of the group, who defended Murrow’s actions to the advertisers who were worried about his barbed attacks. I also liked the way in which the film’s narrative was book-ended by Murrow’s speech to the Radio and Television News Directors Association in which he condemns the way in which TV is dumbing down.

It’s clear that in both his writing and direction of Good Night and Good Luck that Clooney has a particular affinity with the 1950s. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Clooney’s father was a TV news journalist as there seems to be a certain respect of the profession running throughout the film. Indeed Murrow’s words about the descent of TV in general looked to be Clooney’s critique of the reality-heavy output of 21st century television. The script was just one of the things that made Good Night and Good Luck a solid piece of factual drama that obviously struck a chord with the academy due to its political message. The fact that the film was shot in black and white made it stand out from the colourful films that were nominated alongside it. The decision behind the colour scheme was to do with the fact that Clooney wanted to use black and white archive footage of McCarthy. Interestingly some audience members thought that McCarthy was being played by an actor and actually criticised the authenticity of the performance. However, the acting from top to bottom in Good Night and Good Luck is outstanding and it’s hard to pick a weak link from the bunch. I particularly liked the tender turns given by Patricia Clarkson and Robert Downey Jr. as the married couple who had to hide their relationship at work. Ray Wise as the tragic Hellenbeck and Frank Langella as the strong-willed Palley were also on top form. But the stand out turn has to be the one given by David Strathairn as Murrow himself a fact the academy recognised by awarding the star with a Best Actor nomination. Strathairn portrays Murrow as a reserved individual whose passion kicks in as soon as he is able to talk about things that matter. I really liked the fact that the ensemble shared a great chemistry which made the character’s family dynamic all the more believable. Whilst Good Night and Good Luck didn’t win any of the six awards it was nominated for, Clooney did pick up his only acting Oscar to date for his role in Syriana


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