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06 May 2006

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

David Strathairn (Edward R. Murrow), Jeff Daniels (Sig Mickelson), Robert Downey Jr. (Joe Wershba), Patricia Clarkson (Shirley Wershba)

Directed by George Clooney (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind)

From IMDB: "In the early 1950s, the threat of Communism created an air of paranoia in the United States and, exploiting those fears, was Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. However, CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow and his producer Fred W. Friendly decided to take a stand and challenge McCarthy and expose him for the fearmonger he was. Their actions took a great personal toll on both men, but they stood by their convictions and helped to bring down one of the most controversial senators in American history."

I cannot accurately judge the quality of this film because I was too busy muttering "fuckin'-A" throughout. Hmmm... you would think Clooney was trying to tell two stories here, one about the culture of fear and governmental abuse during the McCarthy Era and some closer, more familiar themes relevant to the present. I wonder if it was intentional? Oh wait, duh. The parallels are striking, and even the creation of a movie such as this serves to walk in Murrow's (and others') courageous, muck-raking footsteps.

A quick description of my favorite scene: Murrow is committed to taking on McCarthy through the case of Milo Radulovich. He needs to write the commentary for the show's conclusion, one that clearly delineates his position against McCarthy's fear tactics, the injustice of the case against Radulovich, and the validity of voicing such criticisms – all without appearing too biased. A heavy task. Strathairn, as Murrow, sits at his desk in an empty newsroom, steadily and unhurriedly typing. He smokes. The room is empty. I had the impression that the hour was late and he would be at his work for many an hour to come. The camera slowly pulls back, from a tight close-up of Strathairn's face to a wide shot that encompasses the entire room, emphasizing his solitude. I imagined his wife and children at home, carrying on without him as he wrote, and I wondered: is bravery a loud, pompous, obvious crusade, or the quiet, patient work of a few dedicated individuals? In this film it is both, but I liked the quiet, patient aspect best in that it is rarely portrayed.

Otherwise, inventive camera tricks (with a few pages stolen from friend and executive producer Soderbergh's playbook), intentionally interesting black-and-white lighting, and casual, seemingly effortless performances from every cast member made for an entertaining film rather than a mere hackneyed biopic. I cannot recall another Robert Downey Jr. performance when he just seemed so... normal, but still possessing that charisma that gets him into so much trouble. David Strathairn was Murrow, completely inhabiting him in every mannerism and probing hawk stare. Clooney - although prominently featured as Murrow's producer and friends, Fred Friendly - was remarkably understated. Whereas Mel Gibson, directing himself in Braveheart, seemed to design countless shots around his magnificently blue eyes, Clooney was almost camera shy from himself - a refreshing and intriguing use of his celebrity to draw attention to an otherwise obscure indie film.

As a result, I did not get to droll over shadows of Dr. Ross, but I find myself exulting in the intellectual happiness of realizing, again, that Mr. Clooney is a most appealing combination of looks, brains, wit, and leftism. And yeah - Reed Diamond lives and works! Long live ex-"Homicide" cast members! Fuckin'-A.

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