Dir:George Clooney. US. 2005. 90mins.
Anaustere drama of political and journalistic ethics, Good Night, And GoodLuck represents George Clooney's consecration as a serious writer anddirector after his original but uncertain debut, Confessions Of A DangerousMind.
Shotin elegant black-and-white with a classic, measured feel to editing and pacingthat matches its patient establishment of the argument for civil liberties, thefilm centres on Edward R Murrow, the CBS anchorman who stood up to rabidanti-Communist senator Joe McCarthy in a series of courageous exposes on the SeeIt Now news documentary programme in the 1950s.
DavidStrathairn's memorable, understated performance as Murrow has to be an earlyOscar tip; Robert Elswit's razor-sharp monochrome cinematography should alsomake the shortlist, and Clooney may even be in with a shout in the BestDirector category.
Althoughit is an altogether more coherent work than Clooney's previous directorialouting (which took $33m worldwide, just over half of which was international), GoodNight, And Good Luck is no surefire commercial hit: a niche product forcity screens with breakout potential, the film's box office career will bedefined and moulded by the demands it makes on its audience, as we debate,weigh and reassess our position alongside the protagonists. Some will find itstone too dry, its long chunks of uncut Murrow-talk too dull.
Butdryness is a part of the film's case for what was good about America in the1950s: witty badinage (delivered in close-miked semi-improvised style, withcharacters talking over each other, 1970s style), black tie, smooth jazz, andthe refusal to give into emotion are three facets of what it meant to becivilised at this time. And this civilisation, however much it is linked to theephemeral or the downright harmful (cigarettes chain-smoked on air, Scotch asthe drink of choice) is shown to be the medicine that helped the body politicto isolate and expel the McCarthy virus.
After its competition screening at Venice,Good Night, And Good Luck opens the New York Film Festival later thismonth and closes the London Film Festival in early November. Commercially, itopens in Los Angeles and New York on Oct 7 (Columbus Day weekend), followed by limitedexpansion a week later.
Clooneyis the son of a TV anchorman, and this is his second film to feature a TVanchorman protagonist. But Chuck Barris, the game show host and self-styled FBIhit man whose memoirs inspired Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, was aflawed hero we never really learnt to trust.
EdwardR Murrow is a different animal altogether. Suave, honourable, and impeccablyturned out, with a touch of the Bogart about him, Murrow is a man whose steady,reassuring voice is the man himself. The only chiaroscuro is cast by ourfeeling that he's trapped in his on-screen persona: even in the newsroomconferences, whose spot-on dialogue is one of the best things about aremarkably sensitive script, Murrow sits slightly apart from the rest, and heis powerless to act to save a colleague, Don Hollenbeck (Ray Wise) who ispushed over the edge by the accusations of McCarthy and newspaper allies likeTV columnist Jack O'Brian.
Clooneyhas a supporting role, in both senses of the adjective, as Fred Friendly, theproducer who supplied the network and ratings realism to temper Murrow's uncompromisingintegrity, but who always stood by his man.
Veterancinematographer Robert Elwitt's black-and-white camerawork has a practical aswell as an aesthetic function: it allows the original TV footage - particularlyof McCarthy, who appears exclusively in archive material - to be integratedseamlessly with the fictionalised newsroom scenes without jarring.
Butlike Sven Nyqvist's work for Woody Allen, the choice also implies a scale ofvalues, yearning for a time when elegance was almost a moral force: editingplays a part here too, with slow-paced cuts, portrait close-ups and classicreverse angles being replaced by a more mobile camera in the newsroomconference scenes.
The1950s lounge-bar jazz soundtrack is used sparingly, surfacing only a handful oftimes when we see torch singer Diane Reeves crooning melodies in a recordingstudio elsewhere in the CBS building.
Closeto the end of the film, after the expected reprimand from CBS boss WilliamPaley for putting the network on the line and losing money from sponsors,Murrow and Friendly walk past a TV screen that is showing a passionate defenceof US freedom and democracy by President Eisenhower.
It'shere, and in the after-dinner speech by Murrow that wraps the film, that theparallels with the crackdown on civil liberties in today's post 9/11 Americaare made most clear.
Asa result, Clooney's most political film to date will appeal not only to LiberalAmerica but also to Europeans, who are more than ready to embrace the star'songoing makeover from matinee idol to the Michael Moore of the Martini set.
Warner Independent Pictures
Warner Independent Pictures
Robert Downey Jr