GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK - Complications Ensue
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Monday, November 14, 2005

Today there was nothing to write because we're waiting for notes; and I could barely get anyone on the phone. I don't find writing stressful at all. It goes well or it goes badly, but I feel better for having done it. Today I felt like was sort of walking back and forth in front of a big wall, muttering, and the gates never opened.

So went out to a movie.

Good Night, and Good Luck is a lovely little piece directed by George Clooney about TV journalist Edward R. Murrow and his effort to topple demogogue Joe McCarthy from his position terrorizing the American people into anti-communist hysteria. The movie is small in scale, set almost entirely at the film studios. Most of the scenes are of a few white guys sitting around smoking and talking, woven in with some period news footage. Still, Clooney creates a lot of drama with those white guys.

From a story point of view, I would have told it differently. I would have started the story earlier. The movie makes it seem so easy. Murrow makes the scary decision to attack McCarthy, and from that moment on the junior senator from Wisconsin is on his way down. The scarier story would have been how McCarthy got to the heights of power by smearing everyone who opposed him. But that might have hit uncomfortably close to home. More comfortable to reassure us that one or two brave men can turn the tide against hysteria, provided, of course, that they're backed by a guy who owns his own network.

I would have liked to know what it cost Murrow to take McCarthy on. I'd have liked to have known his doubts, whatever they were. The Murrow in the movie is stern and brave; only Robert Downey Jr.'s character wonders, "What if we're wrong, what if we're protecting the bad guys?"

But the piece Clooney did direct is still powerful, and beautifully wrought, and worth seeing in this age when the Vice President wants permission to torture enemies of the people, and the President says that anyone who disagrees is unpatriotic.

4 Comments:

I think the decision to start the story where it started was a smart one. It was so focused and economic. By covering more backstory (and focusing that backstory on McCarthy's rise to power) it would've watered down the intensity that was generated by keeping the drama strictly within the confines of the news offices. Clooney's decision made it feel more like a chamber piece -- dealing with a big issue in a small and elegant manner. I wish most biopics took this route and focused on a defining incident in a person's life rather than trying to run the obvious gamut (a la "Ray").

By Blogger Your gracious host, at 11:14 PM  

Not to be nitpicky, but maybe the person who decided where to start the story (rightly or wrongly) was not so much Clooney as, oh I don't know, the sciptwriter, Grant Heslov? Sorry, but this is one of my personal bugbears - when a movie's well received, it's always "director X has created a masterpiece" or somesuch praise. When it's not so good, it's the script that's blamed. Maybe there's a history to this script that I'm unaware of and Clooney was involved in the development thereof. But he's not credited with it, so let's give Mr Heslov credit for writing a good script and Clooney kudos for interpeting it well.

By Blogger African Den, at 12:46 AM  

Update: I see that while Clooney isn't credited on IMDB as a writer, in the "Golden Osella" award for screenwriting, both Heslov and Clooney were named, so perhaps my above post was inaccurate, though the sentiment thereof remains.

By Blogger African Den, at 12:59 AM  

I certainly understand your comment. I think I was just referring to Clooney because I knew that he was one of the writers (he is credited onscreen and in the poster credit block, regardless of what IMDB says) and since he and Heslov are partners in Section Eight (and Heslov is the film's producer) I assumed that the two developed the project together.

By Blogger Your gracious host, at 12:25 PM  

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