Good Night, and Good Luck

In 1938, Orson Welles and his Mercury Players proved the power of radio with their historic presentation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Through effective showmanship, Welles was able to convince America it was under attack.

In 1953, Republican junior congressman Joseph McCarthy proved the power of television with his historic hearings. Through effective showmanship, lies, and bullying, McCarthy and his corrupt cronies were able to convince America it was under attack from the Red Threat.

What America didn’t realize the real threat to their freedom was McCarthy, a disgruntled former Democrat who surrounded himself with an unscrupulous collection of characters intent on making names for themselves by sacrificing the reputations of their enemies.

It was a dark time in history, and one of the few people brave enough to turn on the light and watch the cockroaches scamper was newsman Edward R. Murrow. Working for apprehensive but supportive CBS News boss William Paley (Frank Langella), Murrow bucked tradition and did the unthinkable: he vowed to put McCarthy and his ilk out of business.

Good Night, and Good Luck, Murrow’s infamous sign off, is also the title of a new and riveting film detailing Murrow’s uphill battle to take down the seemingly bulletproof McCarthy. Co-written (with Grant Heslov), directed by and starring George Clooney as Murrow’s producer Fred Friendly, Good night, and Good Luck is a welcome reminder of when films were about people rather than things. Shot in black and white to perfection by Robert Elswit, Good Night is both nostalgic and relevant. The film makes points and deals with issues which are just as burning today as they were fifty years ago.

It’s to the credit of Clooney, whose father was a newsman, that Good Night, and Good Luck perfectly reflect the time and place. Although the film is incredibly insular, most of it takes place inside CBS, it’s never stodgy. The performances, especially David Strathairn’s accurate portrayal of Murrow, are robust and full of life. There’s fire in Strathairn’s delivery, a boundless determination to arrive at the truth. There are moments when Strathairn is so seamless we forget we’re watching a performance.

Clooney wisely uses clips of McCarthy to play McCarthy, knowing no one could replicate the monster inside the man. This cinema verite turns Good Night, and Good Luck into something more than just entertainment. The film tackles a lot of weighty issues, and never once goes down for the count. It’s smart, engaging and vital.

Uncovering The Real Menace

Good Night, and Good Luck

David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels, Ray Wise, Tate Donovan. Directed by George Clooney. Rated PG. 90 Minutes.

Larsen Rating: $9.00

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