Good Night, and Good Luck is one of those films that I want to be able to fully engage with and appreciate because I sense that it’s doing something really rather clever, but to be honest it kind of just went over my head a bit. It’s about the television journalist Edward R. Murrow taking a stand on air about the communist witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy, and trying to present both sides of the story during a period of censorship. Now I know a little about the McCarthyite communist hunts due to a brief period of time spent studying the work of Arthur Miller, whose play The Crucible was famously an allegory of the McCarthy ‘witch hunts’, but I will be the first to admit that my understanding is extremely limited. From what I can work out though, McCarthy’s suspicions were easily roused and led to public, personal attacks on the characters and lifestyle of anyone he felt was being ‘un-American’. Perhaps that’s an oversimplification, but, like I said, my understanding is somewhat narrow. It’s probably due to this limited understanding that I found the film a bit confusing and hard to follow at times.
Despite being released in 2005, the film is in black and white. I don’t think it was actually filmed in black and white, but it was converted and the end result is supposedly to look as authentic as the footage of the 1950s. The decision was also taken to only use real archival footage of Senator McCarthy rather than using an actor’s portrayal, and the use of black and white obviously means this footage fits seamlessly with the rest of the film. Using footage of the man himself was a very clever touch indeed, although it was sadly wasted on me as, being unfamiliar with McCarthy’s appearance, it’s not something I was aware of at the time of viewing. It was a good idea to let McCarthy be represented by McCarthy, but what I find rather fascinating is the fact that (according to Wikipedia, and so I use the term ‘fact’ loosely) test audiences initially claimed that the portrayal of McCarthy was too over the top, not realising that they were actually seeing McCarthy in action. Such was the drama of his speeches and accusations.
I’m sure this use of footage was very effective for those members of the audience who were aware of it, and the use of black and white also added an ‘authentic’ feel, but being the boor that I am I’m afraid I’ve always found it hard to maintain concentration in black and white films. I’m like a magpie, I need bright, attractive colours and sparkles to focus my attention, and I must admit that my mind did wander occasionally, especially when my vague understanding of communism and the Cold War fell short. It may have also been due to the fact that a lot of the film revolved around Murrow being filmed ‘taking a stance’ and speaking down the lens of the camera, but nothing about the film really gripped me. It was quite quiet and understated in a way, I felt like everything was building towards a big, triumphant ending, but when it came to it I found the ending rather lacklustre. It just sort of drifted away, much like my attention span. I expect a lot of this has to do with me, rather than the film itself. After all, it did very well with the critics and received very good reviews and popularity scores. It just wasn’t really for me. I spent a lot of the time thinking how unrecognisable Robert Downey, Jr. looks when he’s so smartly suited and booted, and how George Clooney probably couldn’t have found a more unflattering or worse fitting suit if he tried. I really did get the solid impression that Good Night, and Good Luck was doing something clever and profound, I just don’t feel that I know enough about that period or those events to be able to fully appreciate it.