Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Good Night, and Good Luck


Dir: George Clooney

What an intruiging little film. And I mean little; it's short and so narrowly focused. It has one, and only one, point to make. It makes it and then goes home. Watching the film made me reflect more on its genre category than on the story itself. I am just thinking aloud here, but Clooney may have made the next generation of the political documentary, the evolution of Michael Moore.

The subject matter is the rivalry between Ed Murrow and Joe McCarthy near the end of the HUAC travesty. In response to Paul's review of this film, Omri posted an article by Jack Shafer at Slate critiquing the hero worship of Murrow and the glossing over of historical details by Clooney. From what little I know of the affair, Shafer has a strong point. And were this a movie about that episode, I would come down on it, hard. But this movie is clearly about today, a message to the contemporary media that they fail to live up to their own image, an image embodied by the romanticized Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck. Speaking truth to power, that is what a free press is supposed to do (goes this argument). Resisting coportate or government pressure to remain neutral, to improve ratings and not to elevate minds, is what is needed right now. Clooney has used a myth to make a presentist argument, perhaps best evidenced by the obscure clip of Eisenhower decrying suspensions of Habeas Corpus and unlawful detentions at the very end.

And at that level, I find the movie very effective. Most interesting to me were the admonishments about telling both sides of the story when there really are not two sides. Clooney accomplished his goal when I thought about domestic reporting on torture at that moment. Also intersting was the construction of censorship, not as spiking a story, but as dissuading reporters for provactively searching for the truth. It is not enough to allow investigative reporting, one has to always be actively encouraging it, sacrificing government relations and profits in the process. These journalistc ethics questions were refreshing to see taken up.

The film itself is less interesting, but still fine. The economy of the story requires a trade off in character development. Can anyone tell me what the point of the marriage thing was? Little background is given on the red scare or the major players, and since this movie is not really about the controversy that does not matter much. The film has essentially two sets, five or six actors, a script completely dedicated to the task at hand, and little else. I think there is room for more exploration of the subject in the script than Clooney permits.

What struck me was how persuasive the message was. Of course, McCarthyism is a slam dunk example for him. And the movie avoids the Moore pitfall of reaching too far and then getting slammed for inferential excess. No kites over Baghdad here. The audience infers its own connection to the present day. And as all students of enthymeme's know, the argument is more persuasive when the audience participates in drawing the conclusions with the rhetor.

This is political film making at its less hyperbolic, more sophisticated, and more rewarding. It could have been a brilliant film, but I think Good Night, and Good Luck points to a more engaged yet cinematic approach to interventionist film making.