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Movie Review: Good Night, and Good Luck

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The George Clooney-directed Good Night, and Good Luck accomplishes what many films based on political material fail to do – it presents an intelligent and provoking story without politicizing itself and subsequently polarizing its audience. And the result is the best film of 2005 to date.

A period piece, and a semi-biographic drama, Good Night takes place in the early 1950’s, in the midst of the anti-Communist campaign led by Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy. The straightforward, warm, and yet brilliant cast comprises most of the CBS news production team covering the trials and events, led by news anchor Edward Murrow (David Strathairn) and his producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney).

Utilizing black and white film, 50’s nostalgia, a jazz soundtrack, and a meticulously detailed newsroom set, Clooney takes us back to the time of the trials and inquiries. Frequently using archival footage not only to provide the audience with context, but also to illustrate the group of journalists reacting to McCarthy as the events take place and the stakes rise, we witness Good Night unfold as the newsmen and women begin their idealistic attempts to present the facts and question the possible violation of constitutional rights.

Without a doubt, the standout performance of the film belongs to David Strathairn in his turn as CBS anchor Edward Murrow. Delivering lines as a top-notch, consummately professional journalist, Straithairn conveys his landmark editorial statements with conviction and confidence. Even though he delicately transmits a slight trepidation when the studio lights dim and and broadcast feeds end – accurately mirroring the nervous anticipation of the crew members who are fully aware of the possible public repercussions in their questioning of McCarthy – Straithairn still gallantly shuns the pressue coming from his media bosses and government figures in an effort to galvanize his friends and co-workers to finish the job.

We watch Murrow become a leader and a reluctant hero as he quietly makes an ethical stand on behalf of his entire production team. Murrow and Friendly’s risks lead to the initial voicing of dissent in the American public, allowing the rest of the country to question McCarthy’s unforgiving, presumtuous, and brash tactics for the first time, if not condemn it. Strathairn’s performance is superb, and he is assured an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Clooney’s character serves more of a supporting role, essentially setting up Murrow as a friend and colleague throughout the film’s entirety. Perhaps more important was Clooney’s role in getting the film made at all, as he was instrumental in bringing part-time entertainment financier and full-time billionaire Mark Cuban into the fold. Cuban serves as an executive producer, and bankrolled some of the project.

Normally, politically charged films fail miserably to intelligently question the issues they hope to address. Good Night, and Good Luck is a rare exception, as it delivers a thoughtful and outright patriotic message resulting from a turbulent time in our nation’s political history. As liberal as Clooney’s political views and statements may be, he is still a smart filmmaker, realizing that a story well-told is better than an attack well-planned.

Michael Moore, are you watching?

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About Fernando J. Delgado

  • Between Walter Cronkite’s 1968 assessment that the war in Vietnam was unwinnable and Anderson Cooper’s angry comment about politicians congratulating each other while 20,000 of their constituents struggled in squalor at the Convention Center in New Orleans, a great tub of hacks and sycophants lay claim to the mantle of journalist. Pandering to the lowest element of American society with stories of strippers and billionaires or attempting to grease their own slide into comfortable mediocrity with tales of Gate’s boundless generosity or imbedding themselves in Baghdad hotels to report on Operation Carpet Bag, journalism of the past thirty years has done its best to shame the memory of the towering figure of integrity and courage that was Edward R. Murrow. George Clooney has done a first rate job or reminding us what journalism is supposed to look like. David Strathairn plays Murrow and Clooney Murrow’s producer Fred Friendly. Filmed in black and white, Good Night looks and feels like a documentary, rarely leaving the newsroom and giving us zero insight into Murrow’s private life. And maybe that’s the way it should be, the cult of the personality and the worship of fame has brought us to the point where no boundaries exist and every aspect of the lives of the famous becomes grist for the mill of sensationalism. I harbor no illusions that this film will change anything. But it helps to be reminded that there was once a time when being a journalist meant something good and honest. Now it all depends on whether you work for Murdoch or GE. Good luck indeed.

  • I have GOT to see this movie… and yet I just can’t seem to drag myself out to the theater. While I’m reading a review, I’m salivating, I’m dying, I must go… and then when it comes time to leave the house, I’m all… eh… it’s cold.

    Obviously, I have a problem. Please, keep talking, and convince me I need to see this or I will die. 🙂

  • search for my review, LM.

    I agree with most of FJ’s assessments although the film makes Murrow more heroic than he was.
    Strathairn is brilliant as is the cinematography.

    Speaking of the jazz soundtrack, why is the amazon link to “O Brother” and not the GNGL sountrack?

  • Hey guys, thanks for the insight, I hope you enjoyed the review, but I really hope you guys enjoy the film as much as I did.

    El Bicho, I agree with what you said about Murrow, but given the producers/ filmmakers political leanings, I was expecting a favorable portrayal.

    I used the O Brother picture because Amazon did not have the Good Night soundtrack available (at the time of my post). O Brother is one of my favorite movies, and had Clooney in it, so I thought it was as close as i could get.