Friday, 12 January 2007

DVD: Good Night, and Good Luck

Lowdown: We all have a tendency to avoid bad news; but a good media's role is to let us know of what is taking place, like it or not.
As films go, Good Night, and Good Luck is one very serious film attacking its subject matter face on. The film, directed by George Clooney, follows the real story of a CBS reporter - Edward Murrow - and the battle he waged together with his colleagues at the station against the lies spread during the fifties in America by senator McCarthy.
The times back then were extreme, in many respects: World War II was recently over, a huge economic boom was taking place, and everybody was afraid of the unseen menace in the form of communism, which by then had the ability to wipe the USA out. Step into the scene one power hungry senator, McCarthy, who - by spreading lies accusing lots of people that don't have much to do with communism - starts a scare campaign and creates a witch hunt atmosphere where one person cannot trust the other.
The film starts assuming we know all of this background, and its scope is rather narrow: it follows Murrow as he does a program on a victim of McCarthy, then another program on McCarthy himself, then the follow-up with McCarthy's respite, and the inevitable conclusion. It is pretty limited: most of what we see is Murrow preaching his agenda to the camera during his program and the buildup towards the next show. The film's message is thrown at us very bluntly with Murrow and his colleagues looking at the camera and saying exactly what they think.
One can easily appreciate the relevance of the subject matter to today's world: a world in which the leader of the USA expresses himself along McCarthy like lines of "you're either with us or against us"; a world in which the alleged war on terror motivates governments who seek to remain in power to legislate new "anti terrorism" legislation which severely restricts civil rights that took centuries to establish both in the USA and Australia; a world in which a TV station with its own agenda - say, Fox - has more political clout than most other entities, and it enjoys abusing it. Watching the film, one can clearly see where Clooney's stand is. But while I appreciate his message and value the and importance of people like Murrow, who represents one of many people to whom we all owe quite a lot, one cannot avoid the fact that the way in which the film's message is presented is so blunt that it gives it a negative effect. It simply removes thinking out of the equation.
The film has certain distinct artistic qualities: a characteristic black and white look and excellent acting, for a start. Most interesting is the mix of stock footage with modern day footage: McCarthy takes a very active role in the film, but there is no actor playing him - he's the real deal. However, if you ask me, the quality most dominant about the film is its very boring nature: it's just slow, it's blunt, and you know what's going to happen because it really happened and it's a famous story. There's not much tension involved. Which is a pity, given that I totally agree with what Clooney is trying to say here.
Maybe the film has more appeal to the American viewer, the one directly affected by both McCarthy and Fox. It certainly didn't appeal much to me despite me wanting to find it appealing.
Best scene: The opening scene where Murrow provides his theories on what the role of media in society is. It's simply the most provocative thought raised in the film.
Picture quality: It's hard to judge a black & white film, as issues such as color fidelity don't count here. The lack of digital artifacts and an overall very smooth picture lead me to believe it's quite good overall.
Sound quality: Shameful, to say the least. Although fidelity is good, especially in the jazz singing transition scenes, almost everything comes out of the center channel - which is not very exciting to say the least.
Overall: Boredom wins the day over the importance of the message. 2 stars.

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