GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (director/writer: George Clooney; screenwriter: Grant Heslov; cinematographer: Robert Elswit; editor: Stephen Mirrione; cast: David Strathairn (Edward R. Murrow), George Clooney (Fred Friendly), Jeff Daniels (Sig Mickelson), Patricia Clarkson (Shirley Wershba), Robert Downey Jr. (Joe Wershba), Frank Langella (William Paley), Grant Heslov (Don Hewitt), Ray Wise (Don Hollenbeck), Dianne Reeves (Jazz Singer); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Grant Heslov; Warner Independent; 2005)
“A passionately committed, superbly acted and smartly presented tribute to iconic CBS newscaster Edward R. Murrow.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A passionately committed, superbly acted and smartly presented tribute to iconic CBS newscaster Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and his battle over the air with witch hunting and red-baiting Senator McCarthy, who was engaged in an obsessive mission through his own senate subcommitte and abetted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to root out Communists in all levels of public life. It’s the second film directed by actor George Clooney (“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”), who also stars as Murrow’s supportive newscast producer Fred Friendly. The title comes from Murrow’s familiar trademark sign-off. Clooney cowrote it with the film’s producer Grant Heslov.
Evoking the Cold War paranoia of the 1950s, the period film is shot in high-contrast black-and-white and has the lead newscasters with slicked-down hairstyles and dressed in dark businesslike suits of the conformist 1950s era. It also has Murrow chain-smoking throughout, and makes light that one of his sponsors was Kent cigarettes–that advertised itself as “the thinking man’s cigarette.” Filmmaker Clooney does a fantastic job of recreating the 1950s mood, Eisenhower days of suburban passivity, and how TV was presented back in its infancy through live broadcasts. In a stroke of genius, Clooney doesn’t have an actor playing McCarthy but in a much more powerful manner shows the archival footage of the real McCarthy.
The film is framed around an industry tribute in October 1958 to Murrow and his guarded speech to them about the values of a free press and warnings against turning over TV to empty escapist programs. The banquet begins and ends the film. It spends the bulk of the film showing how three broadcasts in Murrow’s 1954 show “See It Now” were brought about despite great tension caused by pressure groups, the Army, and reluctance by the CBS bosses to stir up a controversy and upset their Alcoa sponsor. It does a fine job providing a realistic, no-nonsense back stage look at how those responsible colleagues for the show reacted to the conflict, as well as how Murrow and the domineering big boss William Paly (Frank Langella) felt. Murrow unflinchingly took on the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy– even giving him one show on his own to rebut Morrow’s caustic comments about his demagoguery. At all times, no matter how much he was pressed, Murrow showed courage sticking by his convictions as well as by his loyal staff, even those like Don Hollenbeck accused by Hearst smear columnist O’Brien of being a pinko. Also featured were Joe and Shirley Wershba (Robert Downey Jr. & Patricia Clarkson), a married couple hiding their marriage because of CBS’ policy of having no married couples on their staff. These programs were a milestone in the free press and helped rein in the tyrannical senator. It virtually ended his stranglehold on the American public when he was exposed by Murrow as such a petty tyrant hiding behind patriotism who had already destroyed many innocent lives by spreading lies and false fears about Commies taking over control of America.
The film is claustrophobic, taking place almost entirely inside the TV studio. It offers nothing about Murrow’s personal life. It plays strictly as a homage to those honest and forthright newscasters who do not flinch from the truth, but tell it accurately. The implication being that there might not be a Murrow around nowadays to take on the powerful politicians and interest groups who hide behind patriotism to spread their fear-mongering and drag us into wars we shouldn’t have gone into if the press was more vigilant and the passive public was made aware of what is at stake. It’s not a view offered in too many other commercial films as it is here in such a straightforward, earnest and clearheaded manner. For that alone the filmmaker should be applauded, but also for putting together such an effectively compelling drama.
It should also be pointed out that David Strathairn gives an Oscar worthy performance. He not only has the gestures, looks and voice of Murrow, but in his character study excellently captures his character’s essence and fortitude.
REVIEWED ON 11/6/2005 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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