Saturday, March 18, 2006

Good night, and good luck

By now, after the Oscar hype, most readers probably know the basic premise of Good night, and good luck. The movie is set in the early 1950s in America, and this was the time of the second big red scare in the United States. It was the time of an intense anti-communist movement in America, which was marked by extreme paranoia. It was then that Joseph McCarthy, a junior Republican Senator from Wisconsin, became notorious for making widespread accusations of membership of people in the communist party, or communist sympathizing organizations. His accusations did not spare even senior officials in government, and the Democratic Party. People from all walks of life were suspected of being communist spies, and many were victimized.

It was a time of fear, and extreme paranoia.

It was also the early years for pioneering television broadcasting. Edward Murrow was an outstanding journalist of that time, and he had (even before this incident) become a legend for his War time radio broadcasts. Upright and uncompromising in his integrity, he was one of the outstanding journalists of the time from CBS (then known as the Columbia broadcasting corporation). And in his pioneering television series, See it now, Murrow took on the man who, through his bullying and recklessness, had eroded the eternal American values of individual freedom, Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Edward Murrow (David Strathairn) believes McCarthy has gone too far, and takes on him in his TV show. He first talks about a US Air force soldier, who is asked to pay for the (speculative) possibility of his father being a communist sympathizer. He then goes on to broadcast McCarthy’s speeches on his show, speeches that had not reached the wider American audience. McCarthy, in a vindictive response, attacks Murrow personally, and ruthlessly, in single minded character assassination.

Edward, in his shows, is supported throughout by his producer, Fred Friendly (George Clooney). And this show goes on to affect both men and their crew deeply.

This movie is a small masterpiece that Clooney (as director) has crafted. His portrayal of newsrooms, with the drama, tension, politics and action, is outstanding. For McCarthy’s part, he comes up with a little masterstroke. He just uses superbly edited clips of McCarthy’s original, recorded speeches, and that from the McCarthy hearings, and trial later on. Seeing McCarthy in full (real) rant during the Army-McCarthy hearings is a terrifying spectacle. The movie relentlessly stays on politics, and the newsroom. This intensity can be suffocating at times. There are little bits that rankle, not only for their intensity, and their portrayal of the time, but also for their relevance for today. The pressures that politicians and advertising has on newsrooms haven’t changed much. Murray was an honest and hard-hitting reporter, but himself not perfect. At a point, it is felt that he no longer is staying on the line of neutrality, and not offering both sides of the argument. His response, that he is doing what the truth and his integrity is compelling to do, is moving and yet raises questions. Murray himself is not without flaws of his own.

The movie does well to keep up the atmosphere of paranoia. There are little diversions, like the roles of Robert Downy Jr, and Patricia Clarkson, both CBS employees who work for Fred and Murray, and lead us to believe in conspiracy theories that are not there. The movie reminds us that dissent is not disloyalty, and any one with questions is not unpatriotic. There is a right to disagree. It stands up to the right an individual has to be tried in court, with the evidence in full view, before being declared guilty and punished. McCarthy, with his vindictive bullying, created his own downfall. And Murray showed that unbending integrity in the newsroom can indeed have a profound effect.

David Strathairn, as Edward Murray, pulls off an acting coup. He’s incredibly subtle, and underplays Murray’s role to perfection. This is a masterclass in acting, of a kind that hasn’t been seen often in recent days. Clooney, Downey, Clarkson and the rest of the cast are perfect too. Shooting the movie in black and white lends credibility with the intensity. After all, McCarthy’s broadcasts were in black and white, as was Murray’s “See it now”. And this is a layered, textured, rich movie, with many, many moments to enjoy. It’s not blunt and in-your-face as (the eventual best picture of 2006) Crash was. The nuances and moments are there to marvel at, while the greater message reaches us.

This will remain an exceptional film.


Anonymous said...

I am also trying to see the following:
a) "The War Within" w/ Nandana Sen
b) "Comedy in the Muslim World"

I saw the following movie by Aparna Sen
- 15 Park Avenue

Konkana Sen Sharma is a charming talented actress (See also "Mr&Mrs Iyer")

My Blog

Jabberwock said...

Typically, it isn't being released in Delhi - despite the pre-Oscar hype about all the nominated films coming to our multiplexes. Was really looking forward to seeing it.

Sunil said...

Anil........those are interesting movies that i'm looking our for too. i didn't hear too many good things about Comedy in the muslim world though......

I think konkona sensharma is excellent......i'm yet to see 15 park avenue though, but i'm waiting for it to come to my video store.

jai........that's a bummer.....but i think it'll be there soon. I cant see why it shouldn't come there? I've never understood why hollywood movies come late o india??

Jabberwock said...

Sunil, it isn't a question of coming to India late...films like this just don't make it at all. Every pre-Oscar season there's talk about all the major nominees being screened, but inevitably the distributors decide it isn't worth their while to show more than 2-3 of these "non-mainstream" films. (Never mind that films like Brokeback Mountain, Crash and Munich have actually made a lot of money in the US; out here they're still perceived as low-profile Parallel Cinema).

This year the multiplex guys probably figured they'd done us enough of a favour by screening Capote, Crash, Transamerica and Walk the Line (for one week each, I think) - so no Munich, no Good Night and Good Luck, no Syriana.

Sunil said...

with all those multiplexes popping up in even smaller suburbs, one would think there was sufficient room for "parallel cinema" movies, wouldn't you?

And i thought Steven Spielberg was considered a money-spinner in India. Munich should be seen, even though it's not a great movie. Too bad you might have to wait for the DVD for the other two (don't tell me even that won't show up!! That'll be really, really sad). Syriana actually was my movie of the year......though it wasn't even nominated for best picture.

gawker said...

The film has great atmosphere. The cigarette haze is so real you gasp for bretah as you watch the movie. Also its funny how Murrow is shown holding a cigarette throughout his broadcasts. Cant imagine anyone doing that now on tv. And MCarthy is truly scary. My only problem with the movie was that it was too short.

Sunil said...

the cigarette haze was awesome. Something interesting though.......although there was a cigarette in everyone's mouth, i didn't see ANYONE actually take a puff and spew the smoke out!

I thought the movie was just right in length. Any longer, and it might have lost the tension.

Anonymous said...

If possible, see "Athithi" in Kannada by Prakash Rai. What a gem of a film? Has all the flavors of a great film.

Has English subtitles.

Sunil said...

anil...thanks....i'll keep an eye out for the movie. My mom told me it's pretty good.....

won't need subtitles :-)