Politics never change, but the cast of characters do. It leads one to think what Edward R. Murrow, the centerpiece of George Clooney’s new film, Good Night, and Good Luck., would think of today’s political climate – and more importantly, how he would report it. Broadcast journalism has changed since the age of McCarthy-ism, and not for the better. No one will take a stand anymore. We are spoon-fed the same glossy coverage every night, and more often than not it is a spun version of the actual events. The world needs a new Edward R. Murrow.
Writer/director George Clooney, with co-writer Grant Heslov, takes a no-frills approach to the dark days of Joseph McCarthy and the fear of Communism infiltrating the United States. The focal point is Edward R. Murrow (Strathairn), a well-respected journalist for CBS who decides to take a stand and challenge McCarthy in an era where questioning could get you labeled as a Communist. He is fully aware of what he is getting himself into (as is his staff), but Murrow believes that television should be used to report truths in the world. Murrow was way ahead of his time in his own right.
Good Night, and Good Luck could have easily played as a documentary, but Clooney instead gets a little more creative. He has assembled a top-notch cast, himself included, to tell the story as a narrative with archived footage of McCarthy speaking as a bookend. Shot in beautiful black and white, the film rings true with authenticity and a wonderful sense of setting. Virtually the entire film is set inside the CBS studios of 1953, and by the end of the film we feel like we could navigate our way through it.
The beating heart of the production is the always underrated David Strathairn, and here he embodies Murrow with a quiet determination. With his slick-backed hair and constant eye contact with the audience, Strathairn portrays a man we can identify with and respect in the same way Murrow respects his audience. He smokes his cigarette just off-camera during broadcasts and oozes confidence. He is completely comfortable with his stance, even if his boss, Paley (Langella), is not. Strathairn has always been a fantastic actor, but this leading role should put him in the limelight and even possibly earn him an Oscar nomination.
The supporting cast is among the best put together this year. George Clooney takes on the role of Fred Friendly, Murrow’s producer, with a toned-down demeanor. He is in a large portion of the film, but he never outright steals a scene. It’s a very effective performance by an actor who loves his source material. Robert Downey Jr. is superb as Joe Wershba, who is secretly married to a co-worker (a big no-no), Shirley (Clarkson). Ray Wise and Jeff Daniels are also excellent in concise, focused performances.
One could easily argue that the film is too one-noted and that we really don’t learn much about Murrow himself. This is not a film telling Murrow’s life story, but rather one that tells the story of an amazing piece of broadcast history and the impact that Murrow has on broadcast journalism, even to this day. Taken at face value, Murrow’s entire life consisted of reporting every night and spending every waking moment of the day digging for facts. We all know better than that, and Clooney knows that as well. Clooney’s obvious intention is to stay focused on the subject at hand, and that he does.
Good Night, and Good Luck. is a labor of love that resonates extremely well in today’s political climate. Clooney shows once again that he is a very adept director and can tackle serious issues in a concise, focused manner. With a marvelous cast and a standout performance by David Strathairn, as well as gorgeous cinematography by Robert Elswit, Good Night, and Good Luck. is a film that I hope we will be discussing come Oscar time.
Studio: Warner Independent Pictures
Length: 93 Minutes
Rating: PG for mild thematic elements and brief language.
Theatrical Release: October 7, 2005 (Limited) / October 14, 2005 (Wide)
Directed by: George Clooney
Written by: George Clooney & Grant Heslov.
Cast: David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Ray Wise, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels