Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic

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Good Night, and Good Luck Review

Directed by George Clooney. Produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Starring, among others, George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Music arrangements were those written for Rosemary Clooney (George's aunt) and music played by her former band, but sung by the incredibly talented Dianne Reeves since Rosemary has been dead for 4 years, and would have been 78 this year anyway.

I don't remember seeing Edward R. Murrow's TV shows, we didn't own a TV set until the summer of 1955, just in time for the first airing of The Mickey Mouse Club. Though Good Night, and Good Luck opens with a scene at a 1958 banquet in Murrow's honor, the main action takes place in 1953-54. Murrow was shuffled out of CBS by the end of 1954, I believe. I clearly remember seeing Walter Cronkite as the CBS news anchor, but a search tells me he didn't land that job till 1962. Douglas Edwards had that post during the period of this flick.  Actually, Murrow wasn't the news anchor, he was the world famous WWII radio reporter who broadcast live from London during the German bombings, and was put on the TV payroll more as a star than as a journalist - the way Cronkite was 10 years ago. Murrow produced and was the anchor for a 1-hour show called See It Now, which aired whenever Murrow got around to finishing an episode. This film focuses on a few key broadcasts in 1953-1954.

A serious omission in the film - Cronkite was recruited by Murrow in 1950 for CBS and worked with him, and probably was a key member of the Murrow anti-McCarthy staff, but he is not even mentioned in this film. Edwards also is left out of the film, and replaced by a character named Don Hollenbeck. More on that behind the cut.

Mostly rented this film because of the subject matter, the Oscar nomination, and to see if George Clooney was anything more than just another pretty face. My opinion after seeing the film is...

... he is just another pretty face, whose entry into the upper reaches of Hollywood was helped along a lot by his aunt. He's a good actor, but not great. His direction of the film was inventive by accident - he did some interesting things, but they were done roughly, without finesse. The writing is mundane, there is no humor whatsoever in this film - and anyone who has worked in a newsroom (I've worked in newspaper, radio and TV news) will tell you that journalists have a macabre sense of humor, and would have joked a lot during those tense staff meetings. The editing is very rough, and it's obvious that more was left on the cutting room floor than made it onto the reels.

Clooney's portrayal of Fred Friendly was dull, lifeless and not at all true to the man as I knew him to be. In the film it's George Clooney in glasses. David Strathairn, who I am sure is a fine actor, gives a perfect portrayal of Edward R. Murrow - except that I suspect Murrow in real life had more than one facial expression and mood.  Blame Clooney's script and directing for that.

Clooney's father had been a TV anchorman, but by the time George was born his dad was just another pretty face, playing MC for variety shows and other light entertainment. George probably never saw the inside of a working newsroom of that era. And it shows.

The film has the same tone as Twelve Angry Men. It's kind of like a courtroom drama feel but set in a TV news studio. One of the accidental inventions George gives us is the musical commentary. It's heavy-handed, and eats huge chunks of time which would have been better spent on action, but we get to hear the lovely and talented Dianne Reeves several times, singing most or all of period songs whose lyrics comment on the action. Straighten Up And Fly Right, I’ve Got My Eyes On You, Too Close For Comfort, Who’s Minding The Store, You’re Driving Me Crazy, Into Each Life, Some Rain Must Fall, etc. The soundtrack CD is going onto my wish list.

From watching the film, one would think Murrow single-handedly overthrew Sen. Joe McCarthy, but the truth is, the Senate got tired of his antics, and tossed him into a corner. Murrow's broadcasts were brave, but probably not pivotal.

In real life, Hollenbeck was another WWII European correspondent, and while this film makes it appear that he committed suicide in 1954 because Murrow declined to shield him from the wrath of a particular Hearst editorial writer. It's unlikely that rude comments from a Hearst lackey would have driven him to kill himself. The truth is Hollenbeck was being torn apart by bleeding ulcers, and had been so sick that he was unable to go on the air for a couple of nights. On top of that, his wife had left him, and taken their daughter with her.

Frank Langella puts in a brave performance as Murrow's boss William Paley, but the part is poorly written and we don't really see a consistent view of the man. I'll bet several of his scenes were cut to make room for musical numbers.

Patricia Clarkson and Robert Downey Jr. play a married couple who hide their marriage from CBS, and the film gives the impression they did this because she was a commie and she didn't want her One True Love to be implicated. But at the end of the flick we discover they are dodging a CBS rule which did not allow staff members to be married to each other. I think Clooney got this wrong - the rule is rarely against co-workers being married. It's against being married to someone who reports to you, and vice versa. Clarkson's character Shirley Wershba worked as a writer for shows her husband Joe produced at CBS, hence the real reason for the hidden marriage.

Lots of license was taken with the truth in this film, and it really got in the way of enjoying it. So did the writing, sets, photography and acting.

The artsy-fartsy black and white filming with lots of super-close closeups and sharp cuts between scenes would have been appropriate for a period mystery, but not for this pseudo-documentary. The camera work was inconsistent, and it looked like Clooney ran through several cameramen who had their own ideas of style. The sets were ridiculous. This was CBS central in New York but the sets reminded me of the little TV station in Seattle I worked in during college, where the news set was in the studio next to the orchestra studio. The conference room looked like a jury room. The control room just did not look like CBS central (which I toured in the late 50's with my grade school class).

As for the acting, well, it's difficult to do a good job when you're handed a dull, shallow, historically inaccurate script; placed in a surreal set; shot from bizarre angles, and then edited to remove all semblance of continuity.

This film did not deserve to be nominated for anything. The fact that it won no Oscars shows rare good taste by the Academy.


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