Good Night, and Good Luck

In 1953, television journalism was in its infancy. It was a time when the specter of right wing Red witch-hunts, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, threatened to ruin the country. Men like Edward R. Murrow stood up against this injustice and demanded that secrecy and intimidation by the American government be stopped, using their new medium as their tool in “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

Laura's Review: A-

'Our history will be what we make it.' Edward R. Murrow In 1953, Chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee Senator Joe McCarthy had whipped his country into a state of fear with his communist witchhunts, but no one dared criticize the man's more than questionable tactics for fear of reprisal. No one, that is, but pioneering television journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn, "Dolores Claiborne," "Blue Car"), who together with his producing partner Fred Friendly (George Clooney, "Ocean's Twelve") and the support of CBS head Bill Paley (Frank Langella, 1979's "Dracula," "House of D") used his weekly news documentary show 'See It Now' to call attention to the breakdown of civil liberties and show the madness in McCarthy's methods using the man's own words in "Good Night, and Good Luck." Cowriter(with producer/actor Grant Heslov)/director/star George Clooney ("Confessions of a Dangerous Mind") sticks to television as his subject for his sophomore outing, which is as stylish in black and white (cinematography by Robert Elswit, "Punch-Drunk Love") as "Confessions" was in color, but Clooney sets his stakes higher this time around, his film a stern warning of history repeating itself that couldn't be much clearer. The parallels between McCarthy and the post 9/11 Bush administration are obvious. Perhaps more urgent, however, is a sense of something almost like despair at the state of television journalism, which is elegantly and concisely pointed out in Murrow's 1958 speech given at a dinner in his honor which opens the film (see the full text at After Clooney's set the tone, he takes us to a staff meeting where Murrow notes a local newspaper item on Navy pilot Milo Radulovich, dismissed from the military without a trial as a security risk purportedly because his father read an Eastern European newspaper. Murrow is sure this will lead back to McCarthy and he and Friendly allay the skittishness of number two news executive Sig Mickelson (Jeff Daniels, "Because of Winn-Dixie") and his boss Paley by paying for the show's advertising revenue from their own pockets. Friendly even stands up to the implied threats of two colonels, Jenkins (Don Creech, "The Island") and Anderson (Glenn Morshower, "The Island"), the Navy sends in lieu of an opportunity to rebut or explain the producers' allegations. Encouraged by the reaction from the Radulovich piece (he was even reinstated by the Navy), Murrow very astutely goes over archival McCarthy footage with his team in order to trip the man up with his own words. They not only succeed, but McCarthy's rebuttal, which, as expected, brands Murrow as a communist sympathizer, proves their point when he steers clear of actually addressing any of the issues which they're raised. Clooney follows the triumphant climax, where the 'See It Now' team receives the news of the Senate's investigation of McCarthy, with two sad and terrible ironies. The director has gathered an exceptional ensemble of actors who radiant intelligence, but unlike "Confessions," where we never connected with the inner life of his lead, here the commitment and bravery of these fiery journos is palpable. Strathairn is just perfect, giving a contained performance that fairly vibrates with his need to elucidate politics for the American people. I believe I only caught one smile from Strathairn, and not during any of his dry, affectionate banter with Friendly. The ever present cigarette (the movie practically gives the effect of second-hand smoke) is a necessary extension of his form. If Strathairn isn't finally recognized by the Academy for this flawless performance, there is no vestige of taste in Hollywood (he has already won Best Actor at the 2005 Venice Film Festival). Clooney's also terrific, somehow downplaying his movie star looks in service to his behind-the-scenes role. Robert Downey Jr. ("Gothika," "Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang") and Patricia Clarkson ("The Station Agent," "Miracle") have nice chemistry as Joe and Shirley Wershba, the producing couple who were only fooling themselves (except for a humorously oblivious Murrow) hiding their marriage (it was against CBS rules at the time) from their colleagues. Also notable is Langella, who has the gravitas of the legendary television exec. The film also stars Ray Wise ("Twin Peaks'" Leland Palmer) as doomed news anchor Don Hollenbeck, cowriter/producer Grant Heslov ("The Scorpion King") as '60 Minutes' creator and "See It Now" director Don Hewitt, and Robert John Burke ("Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "Hide and Seek") and "Station Agent" director Tom McCarthy as field reporters Palmer Williams and Charlie Mack. With only a couple of exceptions, Clooney only leaves the CBS news studios via the archival documentary footage he incorporates into his film. Senator McCarthy, Navy pilot Milo Radulovich, and cafeteria worker Annie Lee Moss (another McCarthy target) and Liberace all 'play' themselves. Yet the film is never flat. Production Designer Jim Bissel, who did such terrific work on "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," recreates the studios as a connected hive and Clooney and his cinematographer enlarge the space by using glass dividers and emphasizing monitors which sometimes reflect back their foreground subjects. Perhaps most inventively, a soundtrack well chose jazz standards ('I’ve Got My Eyes On You,' 'Too Close For Comfort,' 'Who’s Minding The Store?') are incorporated via tracking shots to a music show studio where Grammy winner Dianne Reeves performs in period character. Perhaps commenting upon his own career, Clooney also makes a point of the compromises made by all performers, trading fluff in order to practice their art, within Murrow's story. In conjunction with "See It Now," Murrow also hosted the celebrity talk show "Person to Person," a job seen here as a chore endured. But Clooney makes a hilarious parallel to Murrow's technique with McCarthy by selecting a piece with Liberace where the celebrity does Murrow's work for him. When Murrow presses him on eventual marriage plans, Liberace feeds back all manner of justifications for his delay, then compares himself to Princess Margaret, who is 'looking for her dream man too.' "Good Night, and Good Luck" (Murrow's signature sign-off phrase) is a much-needed reminder of what investigative news journalism, especially on television, could be in a society less in thrall to the almighty dollar, but will Clooney need to do "Ocean's Thirteen" before he can deliver his next kick in the pants?

Robin's Review: D