Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow for A Black and White February.
I first came across this film a few years ago and appreciated it for its fine acting, its pacing, and its attention to historic detail. I also remembered the tension in the space between the dialogue, the unbelievable monologues of David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow, and the artistry of the entire ensemble, from the acting to the image.
I took an unexpected trip to Chicago last week, in the middle of this month's roster of black and white viewings, and I realized I'd forgotten all the films I'd lined up to see: the silents, the Orphic Trilogy, Rumble Fish, what not. I began to panic just a bit -- not that I care about actually viewing a color film this month, but more because I wanted to blog some of these films, and I'm already drastically behind.
That's when I came across the discount DVD of Good Night, and Good Luck I'd picked up for $3 bucks some years ago. I popped it in again, just to see if I still thought it was decent, and I have to say -- it's a shame that some discount store like Big Lots is selling a film like this for so little.
I watched from beginning to end, carefully observing, teetering on the edge of my seat. Some films slay with overkill, like The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises last summer. This is a film that slays with "underkill," I'll call it. When you're in the middle of it, wrapped up in the issues it presents, wrapped up in the era from which it presents them, wrapped up in the idea of the Cold War and fuel-filled tensions of McCarthy and the witch hunt for which he stood -- and when you're young enough to have only heard about these things, to have never experienced them but to have such a great introduction to them from such a fine, underrated movie -- this black and white on your small screen is as exciting as any summer blockbuster at the cinema. Its excitement is in its ideas -- the thrill of ideas clashing in debates, and in seeing a reporter take a side for the first time in TV history, when it was a fearful time to actually do such a thing.
I watched the commentary, beginning to end, noticing how much fun George Clooney is. In his mannerisms and the way he comments, sure, but also in his gifts in directing and having fun in the process. His explanations of how certain set designs worked (much like some of the zany tactics he used in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), which I'm certain I'll now go back to), the way he describes the balance between acting and directing in general, his choice to stick to archival footage of McCarthy and the Annie Lee Moss investigation, and his choice of sticking to many of the exact monologues of Murrow on his show "See It Now," (Strathairn as Murrow staring down the camera like a boxer before the fight) -- these choices, and many more, bring us that much closer to understanding the fifties mindset, the hesitation for any journalist to tackle McCarthyism, the tension that lay underneath this new kind of editorial newscast which felt torn between loyalty to the government and anger at the choke hold McCarthy and a few others forced on the nation.
I do believe there are some films which take time for us to realize they are truly great. Not good, not decent -- even "great" may be too small of a word. Good Night, and Good Luck sets out to relay a certain feel from a certain time. It aims to capture the tension, the space between what's being said, and make its topic educational but also entertaining enough to perk interest from the casual observer. It aims at high artistry through use of its set design and black and white, and a steamy live jazz ensemble which fits itself perfectly into every cranny and groove of the film's pace.
It's a masterpiece. There. I've said it. I think it flew under the radar a few years back, and may have been forgotten since then. But when you go back to it and really take a look at what the film accomplishes, it's undeniable: m-a-s-t-e-r-p-i-e-c-e.