Robert Downey Jr
Watching Good Night, and Good Luck, George Clooney’s masterful second outing as director, I wondered what Edward R Murrow would make of George Galloway and how the politician’s antics in the Celebrity Big Brother house pushed every story that really mattered off the news agenda – even some he claims an interest in, such as the Palestinian election.
Murrow is the hero of Clooney’s docudrama, based on the great American broadcaster’s Titanic struggle to expose rapacious political thug Senator Joe McCarthy as an enemy of the state. McCarthy was a man prepared to sacrifice civil liberties, free speech and human rights to the altar of his own ambition.
For this he used his chairmanship of the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s and the paranoia of an America freshly plunged into the icy waters of the Cold War.
David Strathairn delivers a mesmerising performance as Murrow, urbane, intelligent and, most of all, a man of integrity. The ironic arched eyebrow says it all, whether raised while interviewing a Liberace so far in the closet it’s a wonder he doesn’t find Aslan or facing McCarthy’s browbeating.
He is supported by an excellent ensemble cast, including Clooney as Murrow’s producer Fred Friendly and Frank Langella as CBS station boss William Paley.
Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov’s taut script has the grace and punch of a prize fighter. It manages to engage the audience intelligently without becoming wordy or worthy. They tread the thin line between polemic and sentiment, never slipping into either and producing a more powerful piece of work as a result.
It addresses everything from media complicity in the abuse of power to the responsibility of the media to stand up against oppression, and the cancer of a culture that values entertainment above the truth.
The decision to use original news footage of McCarthy and not an actor is inspired. The junior senator for Wisconsin was a monster of fictional proportions, a Tony Soprano in a suit, who hectored defenceless witnesses and intimidated anyone who stood up to him. It is hard to imagine an actor’s performance – no matter how good – not being dismissed as caricature.
This is a story from a time when “investigative journalist” was tortology. As such it should be shown on media studies courses to reporters whose only interest in journalism is as a route to celebrity.
It recalls a time when the bullying antics of certain politicians hid behind the cloak of national security and the threat of a global conspiracy against the free world. In the face of no other effective political opposition, these men deserved exposure by the media.
In that it is not so different from our own times, except men who claim to stand against illegal imprisonments and unjust wars are too busy playing lap cat in the Big Brother house. And the journalists who should be exposing the truth are too busy reporting on their antics.