I never expected to see the beauty of George Clooney eclipsed by another actor onscreen. And particularly not by an actor who is intense and interesting rather than classically handsome. But so it came to pass, when I laid eyes on David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck, directed by… George Clooney.
The moment the first strains of “When I Fall In Love” were heard over the opening credits, I knew I was going to adore this film. The soundtrack is provided by a jazz singer and quartet that seem utterly authentic to the mid ’50s.
Murrow believed that television insulated American viewers from “the realities in which we live.” During the opening scene of the film, at a dinner in his honor, he says, “We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this… Television, in the main, is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us.” Sound familiar?
What, I wonder, would Ed Murrow make of today’s horrific, partisan pseudo-journalism, where few stations (on radio or TV) even aspire to the integrity and intellectual honesty of which he set such a shining, uncompromising example? What would he make of a world where the dissemination of actual ideas runs a very distant second to videos of cute kittens?
Murrow had an illustrious radio career before he was hired to run the CBS news team. He made his name reporting on the Blitz from London. During the war, Londoners used to wish each other “Good night and good luck,” in recognition that they might not live to see the next morning. Murrow used the line at the end of a broadcast, and it stuck.
Yeah, he comes off as a serious kind of guy who wouldn’t have much time for Game of Thrones, video games, or 99% of what most of us enjoy in our spare time. I can’t help but wonder what he did in his spare time (besides drink Scotch). It goes without saying that he smoked, but that wasn’t in his spare time. It was ALL the time. He went through about 60 cigarettes a day, and died of lung cancer at 57. In spite of this horrific truth, I love the way he held a cigarette.
In the film, Strathairn all but makes love to his cigarettes. It’s irresistible.
The film deals with a brief but historic episode in Murrow’s career, an episode of the show See It Now where he spoke out against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunts against supposed Communists:
We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men …
We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
Murrow’s boss (played by Jeff Daniels) complained that his tactics are losing a sponsor for CBS:
“Alcoa won’t pay for the ads.”
“How much are the ads?”
“I’ll split it with Fred. He just won’t have Christmas presents for his kids this year.”
“He’s a Jew.”
“Well, don’t tell him that. He loves Christmas.”
Instead of casting someone to play Joe McCarthy, the movie deftly uses archival footage to bring him to life. I never understood how people could fall in line with such transparently thuggish, bullying and dishonorable tactics, until the events of September 11, 2001 led to a similar atmosphere of hysterical fear and jingoistic “patriotism.”
We saw David Strathairn on stage in NYC in early 2013, when he played opposite Jessica Chastain in The Heiress. He was fantastic. She was okay–her acting chops onstage don’t equal her abilities on film.
Oh yes, Robert Downey Jr. is in it too. But I hardly noticed because I was too riveted by George and David. Thanks for making my evening, Beautiful Men!