NEWSgrist recommends this timely film; watch the trailer
News in Black, White and Shades of Gray
By A. O. SCOTT
Published: September 23, 2005
SHOT in a black-and-white palette of cigarette smoke, hair tonic, dark suits and pale button-down shirts, "Good Night, and Good Luck" plunges into a half-forgotten world in which television was new, the cold war was at its peak, and the Surgeon General's report on the dangers of tobacco was still a decade in the future. Though it is a meticulously detailed reconstruction of an era, the film, directed by George Clooney from a script he wrote with Grant Heslov, is concerned with more than nostalgia.
Burnishing the legend of Edward R. Murrow, the CBS newsman who in the 1940's and 50's established a standard of journalistic integrity his profession has scrambled to live up to ever since, "Good Night, and Good Luck" is a passionate, thoughtful essay on power, truth-telling and responsibility. It opens the New York Film Festival tonight and will be released nationally on Oct. 7. The title evokes Murrow's trademark sign-off, and I can best sum up my own response by recalling the name of his flagship program: See it now.
Nearly all the action takes place inside CBS headquarters (or at the bar where its employees drink after hours), which gives the world outside a detached, almost abstract quality. A telephone rings, an image flickers on a screen, a bulldog edition of the newspaper arrives (sometimes it's this one, whose television critic, Jack Gould, was one of Murrow's champions) - this is what it means for information to be mediated.
But its effects are nonetheless real. While the camera never follows Friendly or Murrow home from the office, and the script never delves into psychology, we see how the climate of paranoia and uncertainty seeps into the lives of some of their co-workers. Don Hollenbeck (Ray Wise), an anchor for the New York CBS affiliate, is viciously red-baited by a newspaper columnist, and Joe and Shirley Wershba (Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson) skulk around the office like spies (though for reasons that have more to do with office politics than with national security). When Murrow, in March 1954, prepares to broadcast his exposé of McCarthy's methods, the suspense is excruciating, even if we know the outcome.
Because we do, it is possible to view "Good Night, and Good Luck" simply as a reassuring story of triumph. But the film does more than ask us, once again, to admire Edward R. Murrow and revile Joseph R. McCarthy. That layer of the story is, as it should be, in stark black-and-white, but there is a lot of gray as well, and quite a few questions that are not so easily resolved. The free press may be the oxygen of a democratic society, but it is always clouded by particles and pollutants, from the vanity or cowardice of individual journalists to the impersonal pressures of state power and the profit motive. [read on...]