November 07, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck.

I desperately admired Good Night, and Good Luck. for its purpose and its conviction. The things the movie has to say are more relevant now than ever, and they desperately need saying. Murrow's time was dominated by a culture of fear driven by the threat of communism. Our time is dominated by a culture of fear driven by the threat of terrorism. The threat is the same, and all too real.
Secondary to the message is the craft. This film looks and feels like it was made in the era portrayed; indeed many of the key figures — McCarthy chief among them — are portrayed with actual footage from the era. The soundtrack, dominated by an onscreen studio singer, comments on the going goings-on much like the stage performances of Bob Fosse's film adaptation of Cabaret. The believability of this world is otherwise absolute.
Still, it is not a perfect film. Unlike the charismatic and emotionally gripping All the President's Men, this one engaged me almost solely on an intellectual level. Throughout too much of the film, the immediacy of the threat is kept at bay. At one point, the ridicule against one of the CBS journalists (Don Hollenbeck) accused of being a communist gets so bad he commits suicide. Boy, now that's interesting!, I thought to myself; but alas, the character gets only a handful of lines before he offs himself and only the most minimal exposure as to what he was up against.
The Robert Downey Jr./Patricia Clarkson subplot was undoubtedly aimed at humanizing the film, but this effort largely falls flat. They're likable enough, and sometimes the source of some cut understated humour. But I can't really relate to their situation and so my capacity to invest emotionally is limited.
At the end of the screening I attended, an elderly man seated in the row in front of me leaned over to his wife and complained, "It was a documentary." That it feels like one explains both the film's power and its shortcomings. ()


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