Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Good Night, and Good Luck – When Will Humanity Ever Learn

Written by Grant Heslov and George Clooney
Directed by George Clooney

Every now and then on the Internet, I get an email talking about “the good old days”, usually talking about how kids could be out late and you didn’t have to worry about them, people left their doors open, kids called adults “sir” and “ma’am”, etc. Usually, the missive seems to hearken back to the 1950s as an idyllic time. And I guess if you weren’t a race other than white, gay, female, or had any relatives who could possibly be thought of as doing something subversive it was an idyllic time.

In particular, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt for Communists in the country had everyone on edge. The notion that people who had nothing to worry about need not be afraid is summarily dismissed from the start. The fear that grips the news bureau of CBS as they begin getting their feet wet on the story is evident.

We’re going to go with this story, because the terror is right here in this room…

The ball is placed in motion when newscaster Edward R. Murrow (portrayed by David Strathairn) gets wind of the story of an Air Force Reserve Lieutenant from Michigan who was told to renounce his father or face dismissal from the Air Force as a security risk. No one can say for sure what evidence has been found against the soldier, not even the representatives of the Air Force who attempt to stop Fred Friendly (portrayed by George Clooney), the producer of Murrow’s show See It Now, and CBS from airing the story.

Murrow started out in radio and had trouble adjusting to the television medium. His radio show was titled Hear It Now and he was well known across the globe for his broadcasts from London during the bombings of the Second World War. With that pedigree, you would think he would be fairly protected from being accused of being a Communist or subversive.

What did really surprise me is some of the editorials supporting McCarthy are typical of what we hear now coming out of the right-wing in this country, especially Fox News and the newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch. Just replace “communism” or “communists” with “terrorism” or “terrorists” and the statements are almost identical. Haven’t people learned anything in the last fifty years? When did thinking differently than a certain segment of the population become criminal?

David Strathairn is one of my favorite actors, and here he really transforms himself into Murrow. He is compassionate with his co-workers and manages to get through interviews with the likes of Liberace when he really wants to do the meatier stuff, like taking on Murrow. When he makes his first speech on the air attacking McCarthy and his methods, he is the newsman I wish we had now on the air, something which is sorely lacking in the modern media. Strathairn is terrific, giving him the strength and courage of his convictions that emulated the clips I have seen of Murrow.

Good Night, and Good Luck was filmed in black and white, so the broadcasts would be shown as they were during that time. The contrasts and shadows are well done. The images are crisp in the contrast, much different than what television actually looked like in the 1950s, but the effect is the same as it feels like a television station from that era. Much of that credit also goes to the supporting cast. Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson are a married couple working at CBS when it was against the rules. They pretend as if they aren’t throughout the film. I thought this was a bit of a distraction from the main story, but at times there were also some subtle parallels. Jeff Daniels and Ray Wise round out the newsroom cast. The latter put in a performance as Murrow’s protege, backing him one hundred percent without realizing how that will affect him down the line. He’s not in the film all that much, but when he is there his impact is great.

George Clooney co-wrote and directed Good Night, and Good Luck as well as taking on the role of Fred Friendly. He’s really good in the supporting role here as he brings a strong presence in without overpowering the rest of the film. Murrow isn’t a renegade out on his own because he has Friendly behind him, and Friendly isn’t the hero pushing his own agenda. The two are part of a team and Strathairn and Clooney handle their respective roles with comfort and familiarity as if they have been working together for years

The footage of Senator McCarthy is restored from the era; no one was hired to portray the compelling figure. I think that was a good idea. The temptation to overplay the role would be great; by letting McCarthy speak for himself in retrospect, it takes away the possibility of dismissing his portrayal in this film as exaggerated so as to make a point. It’s all there in black and white for those with blinders to see if they should choose. Most of the footage of McCarthy and from the hearings blends nicely with the recent matter. There are a few times when the footage looks quite a bit grainier and not as sharp as the recent work, but overall it’s handled well and the effect of the two eras blending together really succeeds.

The amount of smoking that goes on in Good Night, and Good Luck is astounding. One particular scene where a newscaster is seen hawking Kent cigarettes is something to behold in this day and age of a ban on just about any kind of cigarette advertising in our society. You also don’t see the nightly newscasters hawking products anymore, which I think is a real step up.

The “Friendly Boys”, Casey Murrow, etc. were consultants on the film to make sure they got it right. I think they did. This was easily the best film of 2005 for me. The acting is terrific. The story is compelling for this day and age as it was in the 1950s. David Strathairn gives an amazing performance and should have gotten the Oscar, in my opinion.


• Commentary with George Clooney and Grant Heslov
Good Night, and Good Luck Companion Piece
• Theatrical Trailer

Leave a Reply