I finally screened Good Night, and Good Luck and Capote on DVD (in fact, I purchased them sight-unseen). The following represents my thoughts on Good Night, and Good Luck (with thoughts on Capote to follow at some undetermined date).

In re Good Night, and Good Luck: I should warn you that I liked it.

Good Night, and Good Luck is a morality play. Evil is clearly defined. The forces of good wage the noble and difficult fight and win in the end. Along the way, there are sacrifices to be made and lessons to be learned and advice to be dispensed. I love a good morality play.

The main villain in Good Night, and Good Luck is not Joseph McCarthy, although he is a bad man (and he does a fine job of indicting himself in archival footage). Good Night, and Good Luck is, more than anything else, a jeremiad against American complacency and the coma-inducing "wires and lights in a box," television.

The story depicts the tension between objective reporting, crusading journalism, entertainment, selling advertising and corporate control in the TV News business.

In the end, after saving due process and the American way from a wily and powerful malefactor, Edward R. Murrow and his "See It Now" crew (our heroes) are assigned to the Sunday afternoon graveyard. Fred Friendly, noting the success of Uncle Miltie's "Texaco Star Theater," wryly rues: "You should have worn a dress."

Good Night, and Good Luck is a commendable picture. I am a sucker for low budget, independent films that bring stories rich in substance to the big screen. Stylistically, the film made me feel nostalgic and melancholy with the ubiquitous cigarette smoke, dark suits and the jazz rifts floating in and out of the action (I predict an Okie Gardener will enjoy the music of this film, if nothing else).

I like filmmakers who take the chance on Black and White, although, in this case, I think the B&W may be gratuitous. Certainly, the on-air world of Murrow and McCarthy was B&W, but there seemed little need for their lives to be in B&W off-camera as well . On the other hand, the choice of grayscale over color sets an evocative tone and reaffirms what we all know: this is make-believe.

An aside: this film reminded me of All the President's Men at times, in terms of the subject matter and the comraderie of our heroes, but Good Night seemed much less grounded in reality.

In terms of historicity, Good Night, and Good Luck is disengenuousness to the degree that it portrays Murrow and his crew as the lone voices of dissent taking on the nation's most powerful politician. In fact, Murrow's March 1954 telecast attacking McCarthy came very late in the game. The Wisconsin senator was in the last throes of his short-lived reign as a power player in Washington. In truth, Murrow and his boys were not the intrepid loners impervious to the omnipotent evil one; they were, in fact, more akin to sharks who smelled blood in the water.

The film gives merely a momentary nod to President Dwight Eisenhower, who also shows up briefly in archival footage intoning on the necessity of the habeas corpus tradition of the American legal system. However, Good Night, and Good Luck gives no hint that Eisenhower was skeptical and dismissive of McCarthy from the outset of the President's political career and worked behind the scenes to bring down the celebrated senator from his own party.

One other historical note of interest: there is a quick shot of Robert Kennedy (intentional or unintentional?), who was legal counsel to McCarthy and his committee--but avoids mention of the vehemence with which Bobby worked for Joe or the degree to which the whole Kennedy family (espeically Jack) supported and defended McCarthy.

One last aspect of the "artistry" of the work: there is an ominous threat hanging over the CBS news team (embodied in the B&W and the ominipresent cigarette smoke and the hushed tones and the muted menacing interviews and manilla folders). Reporter Don Hollenbeck's suicide seems intended as surrogate fallout for the dire consequences of taking on McCarthy, which are threatened but mostly never seem to materialize. On the bonus features on the DVD, George Clooney takes great pains to perpetuate this aura of risk: "these were guys who stuck their necks out."

Of course, an obvious subtext of this story is that honest and courageous people must stand up in times of crisis and speak truth to power. No doubt, George Clooney sees himself as a modern-day Murrow and President Bush as the McCarthy of our time. We know he blames the media for their docility in the face of the President's "lies" and the Bush "climate of fear." This is, undoubtedly, a call to arms.

But none of that is especially relevant to this movie. I have written before on Clooney's politics and his mission to shape American public opinion (I call it George-Cloonery). For the most part, his political persona is silly and embarrassing to watch.

On the other hand, who can argue that Clooney is not making serious and entertaining films in spite of himself? He is one of our most interesting actors and a director with great promise. We have not had an actor who seemed to understand film as well as Clooney since Redford and Eastwood. In a nutshell: he is an immensely talented filmmaker, but poor political theorist. Only time will tell which dueling aspect of his personality will determine his legacy.

All in all, this is a compelling film. They get the gist of it right: McCarthy was bad. Murrow and CBS were heroic. TV is a wasted tool, and Americans should pay more attention.

By the way, the Murrow speech to the Radio-Television News Directors Association that makes up the intro and conclusion of the film is worth reading. I have it linked here (look for a good quote from Stonewall Jackson in the last paragraph).