When George Clooney gave his acceptance speech at the Oscars this year and proclaimed that he was glad Hollywood is out of touch—bringing up the industry’s past involvement with such difficult issues as segregation and AIDS in the process—I wonder how many people missed the point. Certainly his detractors did, using it as an opportunity to spew nonsense along the lines of “There goes liberal Hollywood again…”
Clooney’s point was that if taking on difficult issues means Hollywood is out of touch with mainstream America, then so be it. Great art isn’t about going the safe route and talking about things that the majority of people in this country want to hear about. Great art concerns itself with subject matter that perhaps makes people feel uncomfortable. In the end, though, hopefully most of them embrace the discussion, and as a result this nation takes a little step forward.
So it is with “Good Night and Good Luck,” Clooney’s portrayal of newscaster Edward R. Murrow’s battles with Joe McCarthy in 1953. McCarthy’s apologists can talk until the end of time about how he was really just trying to do the right thing. The bottom line is that he put this nation on a self-destructive path, and Murrow was one of the people with enough balls to stand in the way and help stop that from happening.
We’ve all heard about McCarthy, and most of us know something about who Murrow was, but I’m glad Clooney and co-screenwriter Grant Heslov wanted to make sure everyone in this country has a chance to see a brief period of our history come to life. As someone remarks during the “Good Night and Good Luck Companion Piece” featurette, there’s no video record of what went on behind the scenes of Murrow’s newscasts, so it’s nice to have a movie that acts as a document of those events.
The “Companion Piece” discusses the film in the context of who Murrow was and how he approached journalism, complete with quotes from him and reminiscences from some of his co-workers and descendants. We get comments from Clooney, Heslov, David Strathairn, who is fabulous in the role of Murrow, and others involved with the film. It’s only about 15 minutes long, but it’s better than nothing.
Clooney and Heslov also supplied a screen-specific commentary that covers how the film came about, decisions made while making it, tricks they used on the set, and so forth. They also touch on the history covered by the story, of course, as well as the current-day efforts to scrub McCarthy’s legacy of the nasty bits. I love how George takes on his critics without referring to them by name or resorting to ad hominem attacks.
The theatrical trailer rounds out this disc.
“Good Night and Good Luck” was shut out at the Oscars (Clooney won for “Syriana”), which means we likely won’t see a more elaborate Special Edition in the future, but I hope that doesn’t stop you from at least renting this movie. It represents an important piece of our history, one that we could easily forget if we take our focus off what really matters.