I saw this today and strongly recommend it. It’s a very sparse, economical rumination on the 1954 showdown between Edward R. Murrow and Joseph McCarthy. I was very impressed with George Clooney’s directorial performance. The story is very tight, understated and visually interesting in period evoking black and white.
The center of the film is David Strathairn’s performance as Murrow which is spot on but it’s also an excellent meditation on the current state of the news media. One of the most welcome approaches in the film is Clooney’s restraint at making his points. He doesn’t hit the audience over the head, he doesn’t embellish the facts and he doesn’t overdramatize anything. There are no slow claps or swelling musical cues, no “movie” moments. In fact, the most effective scenes in the movie come from actual archived footage of Joe McCarthy in the HUAC hearings, his appearance on Murrow’s show and the Army-McCarthy hearings (where we see the famous “have you no decency” confrontation). McCarthy is depicted only in archived footage (which means he “plays himself” in a sense) and this allows us to see McCarthy exactly as he was without Hollywood revisionism or tricks. Clooney is showing us his “cites,” so to speak, a tactic that was used by Murrow himself.
Cloony managed to find some other archived scenes that ring surprisingly relevant today. One is an impassioned defense of Habeas Corpus by Ike Eisenhower another is an amusing interview with a young Liberace dancing around the question of marriage by expressing a hope that one day he can find a perfect “mate” with whom he can have [paraphrasing] “a union blessed by the church and the state.”
Anyway, thumbs up from me and kudos to George Clooney for an extremely intelligent, tasteful and factual little film. I’ve always thought he was likable as an actor (“We’re in a real tight spot”) but I wasn’t aware he had this kind of film in him as a director. My opinion just went up.
Clooney avoids the sophomore slump. His first movie is pretty good; this one is leagues beyond. Don’t be deceived by the simple, uncluttered style: this is the work of someone who’s totally in control, who knows exactly what he’s doing with the camera, with his actors, and especially with the editing. Hard to believe this is only Clooney’s second outing as a director.
And yes, aside from the remarkable filmmaking on display, the film is blazingly topical, without being overwrought or hamfisted with its message. Clooney just tells us a story, makes a few observations, plays fair (note the late scene where Murrow is called on his failure to defend Hiss), and lets us draw our own conclusions.
Just a fine piece of work. If it gets displaced from my year-end top ten, it’ll have been a great year at the movies.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I will make it a point to. Strathairn is a favorite anyway, but it is always a rush to be reminded of Murrow’s courage. He’s one of my heroes (He did right well for someone who started life as a Southern farm boy.)
I can remember watching the hearings on television. The was how I learned that adults fought and argued with each other. Until then, I thought it only happened in movies.
I can’t wait to see this movie. Edward R. Murrow is a hero of mine, as well.
I’ve got a few of his radio broadcasts kicking around – and one of my favourites (which I can never find, because it came as a serendipitous surprise after a radio drama,) is his response when McCarthy accused him of being part of the sinister (wait for it…) “…liberal media.”
As far as I can tell, this is where the meme started. Murrow expressed surprise that anyone could conceive us such a thing, but the whole tone of the thing was a very triumphant, “I’m really getting to you, aren’t I? Good! Looks good on you, you bastard!” but it was witty and righteous as hell. I wish I could find it, because, especially coming out of the blue that way, after a bit of light entertainment, it was so stunning. “Wow, this is a bit of history, right here.”
I can easily imagine people sitting there in their living-rooms that evening with their jaws in their laps. “You tell 'em, Murrow!”
Jeez, Zoe, it’s awesome that you can actually remember the coverage of the HUAC hearings. My early memories of TV tend to be of things like the time that guy on Emergency! helped a woman who’d gotten her toe stuck in the faucet while she was taking a bath.
That would be really effective if McCarthy actually was in the HUAC hearings. But since he was a senator, he never was in them. However, he was on the Senate Committee on Government Operations. So, that’s some funky archived footage.
I really don’t know. I don’t know that it matters. But there must’ve been a reason for it being in the movie. Neither married character was crucial to the plot, so the point must’ve been their being married and how CBS felt about it.