Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) / Drama

MPAA Rated: PG for brief language
Running Time: 93 min.

Cast: David Staithairn, George Clooney, Frank Langella, Robert Downey Jr., Ray Wise, Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, Tate Donovan, Dianne Reeves
George Clooney
Screenplay: George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Review published January 9, 2006

It's only actor George Clooney's second feature as a director, and also as a screenwriter, and already he shows a mastery in both that seasoned veterans spend a lifetime hoping to achieve.

This is a fascinating look at the glory years of newsman Edward R. Murrow (Straithairn, Twisted), who, in the midst of a suffocating national phenomenon known as the McCarthy Hearings, dared to take on the man that had ruined a hundred lives, threatening to ruin hundreds more should they dare stand in his way.  Starting off in 1953, Murrow was a household staple with several news programs for CBS, and one of the most trusted men in America.  Not content to just dish out what the sponsors wanted to see in order to dispense some real news people could use, Murrow made it a point to not play things safe and try to enrich the public with vital information he felt they needed to avoid becoming complacent and spoon-fed.  As the nation could do little but idly watch the Communist witch-hunts, Murrow stood firm in his opposition against the tactics employed by McCarthy, and even drew the ire of the Senator himself, who accused him of being a Communist sympathizer.  In the battle of constitutional rights, it was the goliath McCarthy vs. newsman Murrow, and only one would come out with their reputation still intact.

It's a simple, well-known story, presented in an exceedingly classy and intelligent fashion by Clooney, who uses sumptuous black-&-white tones in order to intersperse actual interview footage and other bits of television within the construct of the drama itself.  Clooney (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) elegantly captures the sound and atmosphere of the mid-50s television studio, both in front of the cameras and behind the scenes, as well as drawing out an astute finger on the pulse of the nation of the era.  Straithairn's performance is consummately engaging, carrying Murrow's intelligence and grace into every word and mannerism.  Murrow is a complex and engaging figure in the world of television news, and a true pioneer in the field.  The film only gives us a small part of just what made him one of the most respected names in news, but it certainly does capture the essence of the man quite well during its relatively short running time.

Like most historical films, the more you're fascinated the subject, the more fascinated you'll probably be with the film.  As I am endlessly interested by politics, television, and the role of the media in general in disseminating information, I was completely absorbed by it, and quite affected as well, Despite the 50 years since the events of the film, it's hard not to think that there wasn't a conscious decision to bring this kind of message out during a time when our nation's news is filtered out, with anything that might make things look bad for the country, particularly in a time of conflict, watered down for easy consumption.  Instead, the ratings-hungry news media of today prefers personal interest stories and items that lead more by emotion or titillation factor than by the newsworthy content, making Murrow's prediction during the speech that bookends the film seem prophetic.  It's ironic to think that if Murrow, the man that built political thinking in the news, were around today, he'd probably never have made it to the forefront of television media as it now exists.  Sad to think that his pessimism regarding the industry has come to pass, with television becoming the ultimate pacifier, rather than the educational breakthrough it had the opportunity of being from inception.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo