In Good Night, and Good Luck, George Clooney has made a very earnestly felt diatribe against political recklessness but somebody really needed to give him and his co-writer Grant Heslov a lesson in dramatic tension and character development. It seemed that Clooney (who I really admire and respect) was more interested using the movie medium as a pulpit from which to pontificate his political beliefs rather than in telling a dramatically engaging story.
Parts of Good Night make for truly vivid cinema–the recreations of the 50’s-era milieu (though it never ventures outside CBS news rooms, executive offices and the local drinking hole)-and it really made me wonder about what life must’ve been like in Cold War America (when cigarette commercials were allowed on TV). I also appreciated Clooney’s decision to shoot in black-and-white, often with nervy pan-and-zooms (which brought to mind the kinescope look and feel of TV of that time). And the whole cast is up to the task. The problem, though, is, while David Stathairn gives a capable performance as Edward Murrow–the CBS broadcast journalist who decides to question America’s complacent tolerance of MacCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunt–there’s very little beneath the movie’s surfaces. We know nothing of Murrow, the human being; what we know of him are the words of political rhetoric that he recites nightly on his news program. I think a really brilliant, incisive script would’ve delved deeper into both Murrow and the nuances of American culture that he cautioned and railed against–and still kept within the rigors of the Clooney’s sparse mise-en-scène.
As it is, we have endlessly protracted archival footage of the Un-American hearings. Such scenes, to my mind, do not count as screenwriting but, rather, as lazy efforts to pad out a running time. Clooney’s extended use of such footage does nothing to raise the movie’s dramatic temperature. And what exactly does the final third of this movie accomplish? It contains no real dramatic intensification, nothing that really surprises us, playing out as business-as-usual in the American television game. I kept wondering: just what is the drama here? Is there any? Is there a compelling narrative being played out here? Part of what we get–a background storyline concerning a covertly married couple played by Patricia Clarkson and Robert Downey Jr–really stretches this already-thin material beyond what it can plausibly handle.
Directed by: George Clooney
Screenplay by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Cast: David Stathairn, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels