(Dir. George Clooney) (2005)
Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908 – 1957) knew he was on a winner, in the early 1950s. There was a cold war on. There were active attempts to infiltrate American government and security services by Soviet agents and fifth columnists. The only thing is, the junior Senator from Wisconsin couldn’t prove any of it, but he carried on as if he could, and would.
A real problem was therefore lost in the fog of McCarthy’s bombast, bluster, dreamed-up lists of traitors, Senatorial kangaroo courts, and perversion of natural justice and the Constitution. Eventually, he was ‘censured’ (or something) by his abashed colleagues, shunned and consigned to obscurity, drinking himself to an early death.
This slight but watchable piece takes a very thin slice of the saga, the stoush between McCarthy and the CBS news show, headed by Edward M. Murrow, over the Senator’s questionable jurisprudence (e.g. the presumption of guilt, the compulsion to testify, the lack of particularized charges, the abject lies).
McCarthy plays himself in archival footage, and seems an anachronism, compared to everyone in the newsroom, all very suave and hip, joking in an Ocean’s Eleven manner, and smoking like Beijing chimneys. Clooney plays a pretty bland and goyish producer, Fred Friendly. David Strathairn is fine as Murrow, but he is reduced to speech-making throughout. Frank Langella plays his usual Dracula role, this time without the fangs. In fact, and perhaps inevitably, due to the confined scope of the film, the whole shebang runs along like a tract. Reminders of the freedom of speech never go amiss, but next time George, could you enhance the civics talk with a bit of a story?
We except Ray Wise as CBS newsreader Don Hollenbeck, separated from his family and under a barrage of attacks over his perceived left-wing bias. Wise brilliantly conveys the visceral fear, anger, isolation and despair of a man on the edge. It is a remarkable performance which lifts the film during, and beyond, his brief appearances.