My Favorite Movies – Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

9 May

By Tanner Smith

Remember that “South Park” episode where everyone caught the “smug?” A cloud brought on by George Clooney’s Oscar acceptance speech that threatens to make everyone in South Park think they’re better than everyone else?

Well, I’ve never seen “Syriana,” the film for which he won the award and gave that “extremely smug” speech. But I have seen Clooney’s other 2005 film, Good Night and Good Luck, which he himself directed and co-wrote. And as highly left as it is, I very much doubt it could be seen as smug. (Well…except maybe for people like Rush Limbaugh, who probably saw the film as nothing more than blatant leftist propaganda during the film’s initial release.)

Here’s the thing though–I don’t think you have to be a liberal to know that Senator Joseph McCarthy was a corrupt thug. He was an a**hole, people were scared of him, and he used his power to assure that anyone who disagrees with his politics were shamed by their country. Even his defenders would probably say he went over the top.

“Good Night and Good Luck,” set in the mid 1950s, is a film that reminds us that McCarthyism was just as present in 2005 as it was in 1940s-1950s. (It’s still present in the 2020s.) And it’s also a film that reminds of how to handle bullies like that, as we too have certain power of the people–back then, it was TV; today, it’s social media, for example. How do you go up against someone who uses blunt verbal force and trigger words to scare people? You use calm rationality AND (this is most important) carefully chosen words.

“Good Night and Good Luck” is a dramatized account of the public struggle between McCarthy and CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow (played brilliantly by David Strathairn). Murrow dedicated episodes of his popular TV news program “See It Now” to attack McCarthy’s persecution of men he views as un-American. Now, this was at a time when the media was afraid to go against McCarthy, in fear of themselves being targeted and labeled as “Communists” as well. Murrow was warned that McCarthy won’t stand for this public attack. But as Murrow carried on with his crusade, he managed to discredit McCarthy’s most damning allegations, resulting in the Senate investigating McCarthy and McCarthy’s reign of terror come to an end. (MIC DROP!)

The scene in which Murrow responds to McCarthy’s counter-attack is my favorite scene in the film. McCarthy was given permission to put himself on the show to correct any errors Murrow made in previous episodes–instead, he accuses Murrow of being a Communist (and even calls him “the leader and the cleverest of the jackal pack”) and cites some supposed evidence to support this claim. Well, how’s Murrow gonna get through this one?……….

Well first, he brings up that McCarthy never mentioned any errors made from previous shows. Then, he looks at McCarthy’s accusations against him one by one. He claims one to be false and the other to be true–but there’s more to the latter. Apparently, a late Socialist author dedicated a book to Murrow after being moved by his wartime broadcasts long ago, and Murrow states, “He was a Socialist. I am not. He was one of those civilized individuals who did not insist upon agreement with his political principles as a precondition for conversation or friendship.”

I’m gonna type that again because it bears repeating even in this day and age:

“He was one of those civilized individuals who did not insist upon agreement with his political principles as a precondition for conversation or friendship.”

Like I said: carefully chosen words.

The dialogue in “Good Night and Good Luck” is pitch-perfect. It’s all calculated, calm, and forward (except when Murrow’s crew gets together to chat–then it’s as natural and sloppy as real conversations). And when you’re fighting a battle this controversial, that’s especially important.

Oh by the way, all of McCarthy’s footage in this film is genuine real archive footage of the man himself. No actor played Joseph McCarthy. This is literally the way he talked and the way he behaved. And here’s a funny story–test audiences didn’t believe it was really him; they thought the “actor” playing McCarthy was too over the top! That’s just too funny.

How far do you go in journalism and when do you go beyond just reporting the news? That question is asked throughout “Good Night and Good Luck,” and I think its lesson is to know what you’re against so you can know what you’re for and to use your means of expression for something more meaningful rather than, as Edward R. Murrow put it about TV, “wires and lights in a box.” And that about sums it up.

Now, please…don’t be smug.

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