One of this years Oscar gems, Good Night, and Good Luck brings the world the inside story into one of the most intriguing media controversies in American history. It is the story of broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly. In the early 1950s senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin began his witch hunt to expose the roots of Communism that he believed existed in the United States. His tactics included the use of intimidation and loose interpretation of the law. His parade of anti-communist sentiment was successful in exploiting the fears of the American people until the day that CBS reporter Murrow (David Strathairn) and producer Friendly (George Clooney) decided to risk it all in order to bring light to the American people as to the undue prejudice that McCarthy was bringing on innocent Americans. What followed was one of the most explosive media controversies in history, and this is its story.
This plot of Good Night, and Good Luck takes us through the early days of the resistance to McCarthyism that is put up by Murrow on his CBS show. The story is a steadily paced homage to a very monumental time in the history of broadcast journalism. From the beginning of Murrow’s journey of resistance to the most tense days of his battle with the over-the-top Senator from Wisconsin, this film exudes the calm, collected, and steadfast resolve embodied by its lead character. A smooth and moody soundtrack very expertly separates the key moments of dialogue in a way that gives the movie a very tasteful and classy rhythm.
Another mentionable success of this film is the visual presentation, a combination of visionary cinematography, alluring art direction, and a director’s touch by George Clooney that is subtle yet effective in recreating the 1950s world of broadcasting which Murrow inhabited. Very often a director can misuse the black and white medium, but Clooney seems to not only make the black and white look of the film feel subtle, but it fits perfectly into his ability to set the mood of the era. For some reason the appearance of the film allows it to maintain a very serious and tense tone, which is important because it makes up for a slightly lethargic story.
The performance of David Strathairn in this flick completely overshadows the wonderfully talented and seasoned ensemble that supported him in his role as he portrayed the irreverent but uber-intelligent Murrow. George Clooney lends a solid helping hand as the timid but loyal producer Fred Friendly, who goes to bat for Murrow when he verbally assaults the scare tactics of McCarthy with very little support from the powers that were within the CBS family. Clooney brings to the film a certain sense of calm and a very personable demeanor in Friendly. Very often it is difficult for the audience to analyze and understand the eccentricities of Murrow’s mind, but Friendly adds the more simple humanized approach to the fight against what is happening in the political arena.
These two stellar performances are flanked by the underlying story of hidden love between Joe and Shirley Wershba, played by Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson. Their marriage is as classified as McCarthy’s tactics, and it eventually becomes a point of tension within the studio. Between the two of them there is a great on-screen chemistry that makes their story completely endearing and allows us to take our minds off of the massive controversial whirlwind of Murrow and McCarthy for at least a few moments at a time.
When it comes to controversial political “biopics” I am often turned off by the potential for a director to make the mistake of focusing too much on the historical accuracy of the film and allowing it to become an uninteresting documentary-esque yawn fest. And that mistake was one that George Clooney is able to very clearly navigate away from with Good Night, and Good Luck. Setting all political and social relevancy to today’s media aside, this film stands on its own as a very intriguing look at one of the greatest minds in the history of broadcast journalism. And even though it is not the most gut wrenching, tear jerking, or jaw dropping spectacle of the year Good Night, and Good Luck has an amazingly smooth look and feel combined with some of the most compelling performances audiences have seen in a long time. The real genius of this movie is that of the director, whose touch is often very subtle yet distinct in his ability to make the film’s lackadaisical story flow from end to end without putting its audience to sleep. Clooney may not be on the A-List of directors in Hollywood, but after this film he has a pretty good start to a thesis on why he should be.
Very jazzy and smooth feel to a film with sensational performances and awe inspiring direction from George Clooney.
A very listless story which has the potential to lose the average moviegoer.
On the Side:
The film was shot on color film on a grayscale set, then color-corrected in post.
Making the Grade:
The Story: B
The Acting: A+
The Intangibles: A+