Monday, March 13, 2006

Good GOOD NIGHT

I am ambivalent about blogging. There is a part of me that wants everyone in the world to read and love me; and a part of me that would prefer it if no one read this at all. I mean, come on: among my first postings was a mostly positive review for KING KONG. Upset some folks, but not enough to get me banned from the webways. Well maybe this entry will get me properly shunned:

I really enjoyed GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK. Not my favorite movie of the year, but right up there in the top fifteen or so. Oh, and just to be thorough, I have a strong respect for George Clooney.

The movie is well made, with proper attention and craft given to setting, costuming, editing and cinematography. In my mind, the film is seamless in shifting from the imaginary world of Strathairn and Clooney playing historical characters to the actual historical clips of the likes of McCarthy and Liberace. The directing was everything it should be, keeping the movie moving while keeping the limelight on the story and the actors.

And what a job the actors did. David Strathairn, a performer that I have admired since I saw him in a reading at the Lamb’s Theatre ages ago, is impeccable. My wife heard him in an interview commenting on how he was struck by Murrow’s stillness. Clearly that translated into his performance, a quiet, contained force in the center of the hectic television news division. Strathairn was mesmerizing.

The writing is an odd hybrid, not quite an original piece, as much of the film is either real clips, or taken straight from existing broadcasts of Murrow’s shows. Nor is it a documentary, or a re-enactment, or, well, any such thing. It doesn’t arc like a story should, playing to the events of history rather than adapting those events to story. It doesn’t dig deep into the characters; in fact it comes with a distance, a screen between the audience of color and the events of black and white.

It felt very much like another history-of-journalism movie, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. And yet, PRESIDENT’S MEN had an awkward, abrupt ending, as if history wouldn’t finish in the timely manner needed for a feature film. GOOD NIGHT however, although oddly structured, although oddly fictional-fact and factual-fiction, just plain worked.

This is a political film, but it is my kind of political film. And by that, I don’t mean because I agree with Mr. Clooney’s politics -- in general, I don’t. I am a moderate Republican, Mr. Clooney is, from all reports, a liberal democrat.

I do not doubt for a second that Mr. Clooney was driven to make this film at this time because he sees parallels between McCarthy and our current administration. And clearly, Mr. Clooney is only interested in Murrow’s side of the story, and only in one part of the story – starting after McCarthy was clearly in his abuse-of-power mode. The film is not the whole history of McCarthyism or the Cold War; just one sliver in a larger history.

That said, I found the film frank and, strangely enough, restrained. While Clooney may see parallels between the past and the present, he did not force them into the movie. The film does NOT start present day with someone commenting, “Gee, wasn’t there another guy like this president? Oh, yes, HUAAC…” and then fade dissolve into the past. The words of McCarthy are not twisted to have a stronger contemporary relevance. The words of Murrow aren’t altered to make clear an anti-Bush administration stance. McCarthy is presented, to his own discredit, strictly by existing footage, allowing McCarthy to speak for McCarthy.

No, the story is presented as its own story. The film makes no connections to the present; it leaves any such connecting to the audience.

Lesser filmmakers (like a certain documentary maker I can think of) wouldn’t let the story speak for itself. Mr. Clooney did, and I respect him for that.

As a side note, I have read and heard a good number of people slamming this movie for its political slant. I find it interesting that many are direct attacks on the personhood of George Clooney, while not addressing the content of the movie itself.

Highly ironic, if you’ve seen the movie. And pretty much confirms any point that Mr. Clooney was hoping to make.

Just my thoughts,

-Sean

(For a dissenting view on Clooney's level of honesty, visit washingtonpost.com, the same paper that brought us ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN.)

5 comments:

Danny said...

SHUN HIM!! SHUN HIM!!!

ER... wait. I agree with him.

Dang it! I was looking forward to a proper shunning. Oh well.

Hey Sean.

I really liked this movie. Stratharin was brilliant. My main criticism was that there was too much footage of McCarthy. I wondered whether they might have gotten an actor to play him, but you comment about Clooney letting McCarthy speak for McCarthy makes the footage resonate that much more for me. Cool.

So what's the oposite of Shunned?

Shinned?

Yes, consider yourself properly shinned.

Alexa said...

I was hoping you'd like it...now you have to go see Syriana with an open mind. Some people have hated it, but I appreciated how different it was.

janet said...

I felt very much the same way about this movie, Sean...

And I also respected the fact that there were much more inflammatory clips of McCarthy, clips that made him look like a raving maniac -- and Clooney did *not* use those. "Restrained," as you said.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Sean. I found GOOD NIGHT to be a great film. I really enjoy movies that are thought-provoking. For me, GOOD NIGHT is a superior film to V, because Clooney chooses his focus with precision -- he finds the universal in the specific, and his specificity is the role of the media of the time. His film is first a love letter to the reporters of the time and an indictment of the reporters of ours. In making his story less on the nose politically, he is able to get away with more in five minutes than the endless and nihilistic pontifications of V do in two hours.

Gaffney said...

Good point.

-Sean