The chilly season
Director Clooney gives Cold War conflict between McCarthy and Murrow coolly styled treatment
In the current socio-political climate, where questions as to the true intent behind the War in Iraq elicit knee-jerk harangues about not supporting the troops, and a report on a trip around the world requires from the media reporting a counterstatement from the Flat Earthers stating that such a trip is patently impossible, George Clooney’s latest directorial effort is a welcome late-year revisitation of the Santayana Clause.
The most effective tool in the arsenal of the jittery demagogue or the venal aspiring opportunist is the cultivation of the weeds of Fear, most notoriously utilized to maximum effect in the rise of the Third Reich, and domestically during the Red Scare of the early ‘50s. “Gunner” Joe McCarthy was the spear carrier of the latter movement, a junior senator from Podunk, Wis. with his eye on the political brass ring. Names were named from high levels to workaday folks suspected of having Communist sympathies, and lives were destroyed seemingly on only the basis of innuendo until men like legendary CBS broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow stood up and called the man out. Of course, in the end McCarthy fell from grace and was relegated to the back of the Senate floor after being censured, but essentially at the cost of an equivalent fate for Murrow.
Here, Clooney (also co-writer) revisits the cultural battleground in a style that evokes the soft-focus black-and-white medium of the time, coupled with the fluid movement of contemporary filmmaking, a short and concise examination of good men standing up at personal cost against adversity to do the Right Thing. The material and the implications are handled intelligently, with ironies left to stand on their own without the de rigor need to spell everything out for the audience (an especially poignant moment unreels as Murrow is compelled by the CBS brass—as “punishment” for his bullheaded kamikaze news attacks on the Senator—to conduct a fluff-piece interview with the notoriously closeted Liberace, discussing the musician’s dream of finding “the right girl"… a scene that plays on many levels for both men, and for the era).
Ultimately, it is a melancholy effort with an air of optimism, albeit one that carries with it the suspicion that while it will be met with amens from the choir, it is too effete to win over many converts. In the end, Murrow’s sorrowful warning about the wasted potential of the medium (and by extension, all media) has come to bitter fruition, and there is no longer a man of his cultural stature to help navigate America through the perilous waters.