'Good Night, and Good Luck'
(David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr., et al / DVD / PG / (2005) 2006 / Warner Bros.)
Overview: In the early 1950's, the threat of Communism created an air of paranoia in the United States and exploiting those fears was Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. However, CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow and his producer Fred W. Friendly decided to take a stand and challenge McCarthy and expose him for the fear monger he was. However, their actions took a great personal toll on both men, but they stood by their convictions and helped to bring down one of the most controversial senators in American history.
DVD Verdict: Black and white, and set in 50's America, "Good Night and Good Luck" is the sign off slogan of one of America's greatest journalists and early television pioneers, Edward R. Murrow. Murrow made his bones in WWII as a correspondent, and continued with a distinguished career as a journalist and radio/television newsman at CBS in the 50's and early 60's. "Good Night and Good Luck" is a jewel of a film for the history buff who still shakes their head at the paranoia and all encompassing aspects of the McCarthy witch hunt in the 50's. I think you just had to be alive then, and feeling the fear we all felt of the Cold War and the specter of Communism, to understand how this land could have been misled and led by the nose thanks to the "junior Senator from Wisconsin". Some reviewers say that the clash between Murrow and McCarthy, between a free television press and television that is simply an entertainment venue, is as engrossing for those who aren't fully aware of that era of our history, as it is for those of us who lived then. Perhaps, but I think not. Part of what makes the film a success is the director's infallible instinct in recreating the 50's...from the prevalence of smoking to the clothes, sets and dialogue of those who lived through the era. What a marvelous piece of imagery it was to utilize only filmclips of McCarthy in the movie, instead of getting an actor's portrayal. With this film, Geoge Clooney fully establishes himself as a force to be reckoned with, in filmmaking. Directing, assisting with the script, and acting the part of Edward R. Murrow's boss, Fred Friendly. The film is terse and pointed, perhaps more suited to a venue like HBO than it is to the movie house, and while it boasts a strong message in today's media bashing climate, and some incredibly strong performances, it still lacks that indefinable something that makes a fine film a great one. Perhaps it is the lack of the human spark in the characters. The romance of two of CBS' staffers, the Wershbas (Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson) is little more than a sidebar. And while the faceoff between CBS' owner, William Paley (Frank Langella in a dynamic return to drama) and Murrow is not for the faint of heart, it is still cold and calculated. Some of the emotion is missing. Thus, the suicide role for television announcer Don Hollenbeck (Ray Wise) is more matter of fact than heartbreaking. Clooney is fine in his role and the supporting cast, including television actors Tate Donovan and Reed Diamond, do excellent work. But any review of this film pales without the mention of David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow. Deciding, at the risk of his own career, to take McCarthy on, Murrow was a quiet symbol of what is great in America. As Murrow, Strathairn is eerily a recreation of the man himself, with the quiet, convincing style that belies a man of impeccable reputation. Strathairn is a bit of a journeyman, with a long history of memorable small parts. You may not even remember him in L.A. Confidential, in The Firm, in The River Wild, or over the course of a 25 year film career. You remember you've seen him before, but you can't remember where. Less easy to forget is his memorable turn as Robert "Bob" Wegler, A.J.'s guidance counselor in the 2004 run of "The Sopranos". As Bob, Strathairn was far less interested in helping A.J. than he was in bedding Carmela, which he did in a delicious turn of events on the show. As Murrow, Strathairn has come into his own as an actor; he is a quiet force on the screen, the reincarnation of the newsman. Affable and steely, he makes you believe in his cause, which is not bringing down Joe McCarthy, but rather bringing up the quality of the television industry, to make it more than just another entertainment venue. Clooney chose well when he chose Strathairn, and the actor's passion and intensity shines through in the role. I suppose there may be a better turn in a leading actor's role in film this year, but at this point, I have not seen any. For the serious film buff, "Good Night and Good Luck" is being shown in limited release around the country, and will not win the hearts and minds of many who go to films to be strictly entertained. The message is too intense, the film too understated for most. However, it is among the very best in films released this year, and while somewhat emotionless for the audience, one can tell that it was a labor of love for the filmmakers. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Commentary by Director/Screenwriter George Clooney and Producer/Screenwriter Grant Heslov
'Good Night, and Good Luck.' Companion Piece