The press tour that David Strathairn did for GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK was the first of his career. Considering how many first-rate performances Strathairn has given over the years, this came as something of a surprise to me. From starring roles in such John Sayles’ classics as LIMBO and PASSION FISH to solid supporting work in big budget Hollywood flicks like L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, he’s demonstrated over and over that he is one of the best actors working today. It’s a reputation that is solidified in his portrayal of Edward R. Murrow in George Clooney’s brilliant film about the legendary newsman taking on Joe McCarthy.
Naturally the conversation turned to issues of free speech, corporate influences on the media, and the relevance of events that happend a half-century ago today. Soft-spoken and insightful, Strathairn had much to say on both topics, as well as how early training in a clown school has stood him in good stead over the years.
In a lesser film about Edward R. Murrow and the way he used television to bring down Joseph McCarthy, there would have been the obligatory unburdening scene with his wife. He would articulate the risks involved in what he was undertaking personally, professionally, and financially, have an emotional breakdown of some sort, and Mrs. Murrow would dutifully offer her dewy-eyed support with a mawkish speech about how he needs to keep fighting the good fight and her immense pride in him for doing so. It would have been, in other words, generic and stale and an affront in that it would distract from the concept that Murrow fought so hard to keep in the public consciousness. What went on between the Murrows may or may not have happened in just that way. It’s none of our business. What is our business, and the business of George Clooney’s GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, is the concept of a free press and the balance, or lack thereof, it strikes between keeping its readers, listeners, and viewers happy and keeping them informed.
Instead, it tells the story in black and white, figuratively and literally, trusting rightly in the inherent drama of the story and its hero to provide all the elements needed for a compelling and thought-provoking film whose issues are as relevant today as they were back in 1953. With direction, script and performances that brook no sentimentality, what is, nonetheless, evident is the sense of moral outrage that doesn’t waste time with anger, but instead channels itself into an exquisitely calibrated assault that exposes hypocrisy for what it is.