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"Methodically and purposefully demonstrates the importance of impartial journalism."
"(Clooney) has a knack for delivering complex material with confidence and efficiency."
"Exercises control and constraint, eloquently distinguishing between right and wrong."
Good Night, and Good Luck  

Cast

Edward R. Murrow: David Strathairn
Fred Friendly: George Clooney
William Paley: Frank Langella
Don Hollenbeck: Ray Wise
Joe Wershba: Robert Downey, Jr.
Shirley Wershba: Patricia Clarkson
Sig Mickelson: Jeff Daniels
Review December 2005

Controversial, candid, and composed, Edward R. Murrow is considered by many to be the founding father of broadcast journalism. Known for his matter of fact demeanor and his unflinching integrity, Murrow helped shape television news into what we see and hear today with radio and television shows like "Hear It Now" and "See It Now." Never one to shy away from the truth, Murrow made a name for himself by exposing the fear tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy and helping defuse the paranoia surrounding Communism in the early 1950's. And it is that heroic effort that lies at the center of George Clooney's biographical tribute, "Good Night, and Good Luck," also widely known as Murrow's signature sign off. Captured eloquently in black and white, the film exudes a warm texture with the sound and sophistication of a jazz club. Featuring a brilliantly subtle and sophisticated performance by David Straitharn, "Good Night, and Good Luck" methodically and purposefully demonstrates the importance of impartial journalism.

On November 18, 1951, Edward R. Murrow and his producer partner at CBS, Fred Friendly, moved their highly successful radio show, "Hear It Now" to a new format, namely television. The show, called "See It Now," featured the same template as the radio show with one exception - it would be in moving pictures. Covering the same type of controversial issues, Murrow achieved a great deal of notoriety for his investigative reporting and adherence to the truth. Meanwhile, in another part of the country, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy was gaining quite a bit of attention on his own. Using an American Air Force pilot named Milo Radulovich as a scapegoat, McCarthy began a serious campaign to drum up fear and paranoia of a Communist plot to infiltrate American soil. Radulovich maintained his own innocence, but had been dismissed without formal charges, leading many to question his allegiance. So, when Murrow and his team of reporters presented a story on the case, the whole world took notice, including Senator McCarthy himself.

On March 9, 1954, Murrow and Friendly produced one of a series of 30-minute specials of "See It Now" on the Radulovich case. The programs challenged McCarthy's tactics, using excerpts from his own speeches to pinpoint lies and contradictions. But the manner in which Murrow employed, taking advantage of the new medium to present the facts, created much controversy, especially to Murrow's boss, CBS head William Paley. Although Paley continued to support Murrow behind the scenes, the subject material kept advertisers away, and it led to a growing tension between Murrow and Paley. And when McCarthy took aim at Murrow and his team, accusing them of Communist schemes, a penultimate confrontation was imminent, one that allowed McCarthy a rebuttal, one that helped turn the tide against the Red Scare, and one that became a historic moment in the history of television journalism.

Born near Greensboro, North Carolina on April 25, 1908, Egbert Roscoe Murrow grew up with the journalist bug, studying debate, speech, and college politics. And in 1935, when he first joined CBS, he created a news staff from scratch, gaining worldwide fame with a variety of cutting edge radio broadcasts at the outbreak of World War II. Oddly enough, Murrow had misgivings about television and its emphasis on pictures instead of ideas. But he quickly took advantage of the situation, producing the same kind of hard-hitting news that his listeners were accustomed to. Sadly, shortly after the McCarthy broadcasts, the weekly version of "See It Now" came to an end in 1955 once Alcoa pulled its advertising. A heavy smoker all his life, Murrow eventually developed lung cancer and passed away in 1965. But his documentary style news coverage continues to shape television journalism today.

"Good Night, and Good Luck" is a film about the preservation of freedom through the exercise of fundamental rights; in particular, the exercise of freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Senator McCarthy violated these rights when he used media as a sounding board to spread fear and propaganda about Communism in the 1950's. And in a bitter irony, it was the media's adherence to the truth and those fundamental values that eventually did him in. That someone like George Clooney would direct such a picture should come as no surprise. Clooney, the son of broadcast journalist Nick Clooney, knows a thing or two about the subject material - the yin and yang between politics and showmanship. And the seriousness that results when such powers are abused. The film is a great match for Clooney, who already demonstrated in "The Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," that he has a knack for delivering complex material with confidence and efficiency. For in "Good Night, and Good Luck," even though Clooney is on a righteous mission, it never feels like it because of the amount of all the humanity and charm present.

Portraying Edward R. Murrow is David Straitharn, an actor whose body of work has been consistently and quietly brilliant over the years, a la "Matewan," "City of Hope," and "Passion Fish." In "Good Night, and Good Luck," forget that his appearance differs substantially from that of Murrow. After all, it's his presence that matters most. Precise and straightforward, Straitharn commands our attention, able to hone in on the subtle emotions and mannerisms attributed to Murrow. Everything from a raised brow to his forward leaning posture to the way he holds his cigarette. Straitharn understands the nuances of the character, the careful degrees distinguished in the script; in particular, how silence and stillness are just as important as sound and motion. Such action and inaction helps give Murrow a greater level of respect and trustworthiness.

Watching "Good Night, and Good Luck," you get the distinct feeling that you're in a Rat Pack lounge. From 1950's hair and dress to dry martinis and Dianne Reeves singing jazz in a nearby studio, the film definitely has a lot of style. But most obvious is the monochromatic vibe as a result of the black and white, which gives the film a definitive quality, a feeling of good versus evil, of right versus wrong. Also aiding the film is a series of fluid transitions, the constant flowing of cigarette smoke and the tickling of ivories that help move scene to scene. Interestingly, the band playing during the movie is that of George Clooney's aunt, Rosemary Clooney. But even more interesting is the fact that the film was actually shot on color film only to be corrected in post-production. A smart choice, this technique gives the light and dark tones even more depth than if shot originally in black and white.

Yet, as focused and as fresh as the film seems, there is missing ingredient somewhere between the opening and closing monologues - the absence of an assertive, pressing story. This is not to say that there is a lack of compassion or importance, but simply that the slow, methodical approach creates an adverse reaction, one devoid of urgency or energy. Although beautifully captured in smoky black and white, "Good Night, and Good Luck" appears one-dimensional, shot almost entirely within the newsroom at CBS. Comprised of a series of broadcasts that present or counteract supposed facts around the McCarthy hearings, the film loses its sense of cohesiveness and continuity by toggling and advancing through too much material and too much footage. Even though the archived footage is vitally important in helping secure the time and place, it just doesn't hold up well in the 16:9 aspect ratio of wide screen technology, particularly when you see Senator McCarthy blown up on the full screen, looking extremely pixelated.

"We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home." In "Good Night, and Good Luck," Edward R. Murrow practices exactly what he preaches, leading a team of broadcasters on a mission to protect Americans from the erroneous injustices and accusations made by Senator Joseph McCarthy. And because of his tenacity and his straightforward approach, freedom was successfully defended. Demonstrating a direct connection between politics and press, George Clooney exercises control and constraint, eloquently distinguishing between right and wrong. And the film benefits from a first rate performance by David Straitharn, who meticulously shows the power of subtlety, all the while giving Murrow a genial, yet imperfect quality. After all, Murrow was a character with flaws, often accused of skirting objectivity. And the film is not without flaws either, bereft of ardor. Still, Clooney's message is perfectly clear: If used objectively, television is a powerful medium that can enlighten and inform. But if abused, as Murrow warns, it is "merely wires and lights in a box."



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