Good Night, and Good Luck

(George Clooney, USA, 2005)


George Clooney’s second directorial effort, Good Night, and Good Luck, goes down so quickly and painlessly that it is easy to forget it five minutes after leaving the cinema.

Abandoning the postmodern pyrotechnics that filled his debut, the curious Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Clooney here adopts a quiet, measured style. The hush that falls over the film is presumably meant to signal the moral seriousness of the occasion.

In the earnest tradition of Robert Redford’s Quiz Show (1994) and Michael Mann’s The Insider (1999), Good Night, and Good Luck addresses an intriguing, historic case of ethical struggle within the American media industry.

During the 1950s, Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and his television current affairs team took on the powerful figure of Senator Joseph McCarthy. They did so not because of political ideology but because of a belief in reporting the truth, especially in a climate where hysteria ruled.

Using very generous dollops of newsreel footage (fans of Otto Preminger’s classic 1959 courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder will recognise Joseph Welch, who in real life fearlessly interrogated McCarthy), Clooney spins a cautionary tale about the fate of television journalism in an entertainment age. It’s hard to disagree with this lesson, but equally hard to get terribly excited by it.

The claustrophobic world of the television studio is well conveyed (Clooney’s father was a newscaster), and the banter between journalists is pleasingly captured – although the script (co-written by Clooney and Grant Heslov) has trouble bringing a subplot concerning "secret lovers" Joe (Robert Downey Jr) and Shirley (Patricia Clarkson) to life.

The widespread claim that Good Night, and Good Luck is a bold, progressive film is laughable. It is the type of movie that aims for its target audience and then flatters it relentlessly. No one drawn into this movie can ever feel confused or uncertain; the virtuous heroes and venal villains are earmarked from the first scene, and the values for which each stand remain rock solid to the end. It is a "thesis film" designed to make us feel we are on the right side of the moral and political fence – and then we are able to simply return to our daily lives, unmoved and unchanged.

Everything else in the film – the cool jazz music, the elegant black and white cinematography (by Robert Elswit) and the understated performances – merely serves to grease the wheel of this inoffensive but facile seduction of the viewer.

© Adrian Martin December 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search