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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.3%
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10 reviews, 46 user ratings

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Good Night, and Good Luck.
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by Peter Sobczynski

"This probably won't rank high on Ann Coulter's Netflix queue"
5 stars

Who would have suspected a decade ago that George Clooney, then known primarily as the hunky doctor on TV’s “ER,” would reinvent himself as one of the most intriguing personalities working in the American film industry today. As an actor, after a few early missteps in such dogs as “The Peacemaker” and “Batman and Robin,” he has carved out a fascinating filmography by working with such challenging filmmakers as David O. Russell, Steven Soderbergh and the Coen Brothers instead of treading water in high-concept junk. As a producer, he has helped put together such interesting projects as “Insomnia,” “Far From Heaven” and a live television production of “Fail-Safe.” And when he decided to branch out into directing, his choice of a first project was not the vanity vehicle that an actor usually picks for their first (and often last) stint behind the camera but the wildly ambitious Chuck Barris pseudo-biopic “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.”

With his latest directorial effort, “Good Night, and Good Luck,” Clooney has once again chosen to use his clout and star power to push through a film that might not have otherwise gotten made. The film tells the story of the legendary battle played out over the airwaves between highly respected CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and Red-baiting Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy in 1953-54. It begins as Murrow (David Strathairn) comes across the story of Milo Radulovic, an Air Force pilot who has been forced out of the military without a trial or even a hearing–not because of anything that he did but because his father was seen reading a Serbian newspaper. Murrow thinks that stinks and wants to do a story on it, much to the consternation of some of the network higher-ups who fear getting on the wrong side of McCarthy and his increasingly fervent following (“Go after Joe Kennedy–we’ll pay for it!”) and who worry that Murrow is blurring the line of objective reporting. Nevertheless, the broadcast goes on as scheduled (we later see Murrow paying for it by doing an insipid “Person to Person” interview with Liberace) and Murrow is inevitably labeled a Communist sympathizer by McCarthy and his cronies.

In response, Murrow, backed up by loyal producer Fred Friendly (Clooney), decides to go after McCarthy and his bullying ways. Their brilliant stroke of genius is to allow McCarthy to hang himself with his own words and actions by presenting a devastating series of images to illustrate just how ridiculous and dangerous he and his methods have become. Against the pleas of network owner William Paley (Frank Langella)–who is torn between his respect for Murrow and the needs of the increasingly nervous stockholders–the show is broadcast and causes a firestorm of publicity that begins the final downfall of McCarthy. Ironically, both Murrow and McCarthy wind up suffering the same fate for the dogged pursuit of their convictions–neither is fired (thereby turning them into instant martyrs) but are instead kept out of sight so as not to cause any more of a stir.

One of the brilliant decisions that Clooney made in directing this film is in the way that he depicts McCarthy. Instead of hiring an actor to portray him–a decision that would have been disastrous as no one could play such a person without slipping into parody-he does essentially what Murrow did and allows McCarthy to do himself in by depicting him only through old kinescopes. This is not as alienating an approach as it may sound since McCarthy was always one step removed from Murrow–the two were never once in the same room together–and it lends a sense of reality to the proceedings that might have otherwise been lost. Along the same lines, the screenplay (co-written by Clooney and Grant Heslov) smartly relies mostly on the actual transcripts from Murrow’s speeches and broadcasts. Listening to them, one is struck by how prescient he was about where the future of broadcast television was headed (the speech that he gives at a 1958 testimonial dinner, which bookends the film, could be delivered today without having to change a single thing) and by the fact that there was once a time when a network newsman was allowed to be erudite and intelligent without worrying about how it might affect the ratings. (Along the same lines, it is also astonishing to look at the chunky, sweaty McCarthy and realize that there is probably no way that he could get elected in our image-is-everything era.)

Another smart choice by Clooney deals with the approach to the material. One might expect, for example, a big dramatic moment in which someone–perhaps Mrs. Murrow–tearfully asks why Murrow is putting himself through such an ordeal and he responds with a noble, Oscar-clip-worthy bit in which he carefully explains why he is doing it in a way that underlines the point of the film to the slower audience members. Here, there are no such scenes and no such moments–Clooney pares away all the extraneous detail and drama (aside from a brief subplot involving Robert Downey Jr and Patricia Clarkson as co-workers trying to keep their marriage–a no-no under CBS policy–from their colleagues) and focuses everything on the day-to-day details of the Murrow-McCarthy dustup. In an interesting stylistic approach, Clooney essentially stages the film in the manner of a live television drama of that era–only a few sets, mostly within the confines of the CBS building, long dialogue-driven scenes and musical interludes (courtesy of Dianne Reeves) that takes us from one scene to another. This approach might not sound like much but it subtly envelopes you in the feel of television of the time and adds a layer of realism to the proceedings that would not have existed with a more conventional narrative approach.

The anchor of the film is the performance by David Strathairn–best known for his appearances in several John Sayles films–in the role of Murrow. To play such a well-known public figure has to be a daunting task–it can’t simply be an imitation or the film just becomes an extended stunt–and it is one that Strathairn is clearly up to. While he may not physically look exactly like Murrow, he has his sound and manner down pat and he finds a way of letting us know how the man feels about what is going on around him without ever having to express it verbally. (Watch him in the scene where he has to inform a beleaguered fellow newscaster, who is being crucified as a Communist in the Hearst newspapers, that he cannot help him on the sensible grounds that he can’t battle McCarthy and Hearst at the same time.) This is a great performance from the generally underrated Strathairn and if enough people see the film, it is a virtual lock for an Oscar nomination.

Strathairn also gets a lot of support from a uniformly impressive supporting cast. Clooney is smart and effective in the role of Fred Friendly and while the subplot involving Downey and Clarkson is a bit of a distraction, they are so appealing that you don’t really mind it. Also very impressive is Frank Langella as William Paley–it would have been very easy to simply paint him as the ruthless businessman who values profits over journalism but he invests the character with enough intelligence and respect so that while you may disagree with his actions in the end, you can understand both how he came to such a decision and how much it must have sincerely pained him to do such a thing.

“Good Night, and Good Luck” may sound like just another history lesson that is irrelevant for most contemporary audiences. After all, it is a low-key, black-and-white film that is unabashedly liberal in tone, tells a story in which the triumphs are immediately derailed by the necessities of real life and, perhaps most challenging of all in these times, dares to present a journalist in a positive light for questioning what is going on in the world and staking his career and reputation on exposing the truth instead of merely parroting the official party line. Not only has Clooney dared to attempt such a radical project, he has pulled it off triumphantly–not only is this one of the best films of the year but it may well be one of the most socially relevant films to emerge from Hollywood in 2005.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13156&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/21/05 00:02:58
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User Comments

10/21/20 Louise (the real one) Looks stylish, but boring and completely forgettable. 2 stars
9/12/09 Jeff Wilder Great historical docudrama 5 stars
1/15/09 Shaun Wallner Awesome Story! 5 stars
7/29/08 mr.mike It was very well done.4.5 stars. 4 stars
5/18/08 davikariout great presentation 5 stars
3/21/08 Pamela White great chronicle of a man's life 4 stars
10/14/07 fools♫gold well-done and thoughtful 5 stars
6/05/07 gr117 Excellent! 5 stars
4/08/07 Rosie i thought it needed more context. events happened too fast MORE CONTEXT!!!! 2 stars
11/13/06 AJ Muller Means now what it meant then; don't let fear force lies into being the accepted truth. 5 stars
8/16/06 Mary Beth hard to follow; guess I didn't get it 3 stars
8/12/06 R.W.Welch No Hollywood hokum here. Straight stuff docudrama. 4 stars
6/15/06 Billy father, father 2 stars
5/09/06 Craig Call Very well done! 4 stars
5/08/06 Captain Craig Now you know what happened to TV and why! 4 stars
4/24/06 millersxing Powerfully exhibits an attention to detail and a trained focus of the historian's gaze. 5 stars
4/06/06 Quigley one of the most patriotic movies I've seen in a while. strathairn was amazing 5 stars
4/04/06 Annie G I felt like I was watching part 2 of a documentary-when did they introduce the characters? 3 stars
4/03/06 Josh Standlee Sorry, people. It had a great cast, but it ended too quickly. 1 stars
4/01/06 Phil M. Aficionado Precise but not as rich in context as I had hoped; didn't show Murrow as a human w/ family 4 stars
3/29/06 sbpat21 a marvelous film 5 stars
3/17/06 MP Bartley Too insular, but a gripping and intelligent character study. Superb acting helps. 4 stars
3/12/06 Roderick Cromar This is great! A movie for adults! With brains! 5 stars
3/07/06 Piz Straight-forward if not boring account of McCarthy vs Cronkite. Well done but very overated 3 stars
2/26/06 Monday Morning Extremely antiseptic -- smart but NO emotion, just speeches. 4 stars
2/21/06 malcolm brilliant. way more exciting than 'aliens versus predator.' 4 stars
2/13/06 John Senational piece of work - riveting, exiting and alas relevant 5 stars
2/13/06 Jin Horribly one-sided and impotent. McCarthy's work was taken way out of context. 1 stars
2/12/06 KCobain Boring, dull, and wishes it was All The Presidents Men with its abrubt ending to nothing. 1 stars
2/12/06 helen bradley Interesting, relevant, David Strathairn’s portrayal of Murrow brilliant 4 stars
1/03/06 john bale Tour de force by David Strathairn in a finely crafted and credible film. 5 stars
12/30/05 Agent Sands Perfectly handled and realized by one of the greatest & most underrated talents in a decade 5 stars
12/23/05 Green Gremlin :We have nothing to fear but fear itself" - FDR 5 stars
12/17/05 ownerofdajoint The early days of corporate media control over the bewildered herd are well depicted here 5 stars
11/18/05 M.F. superb 5 stars
11/17/05 Robert Braunfeld Caprures a time that seems to be lost but not forgotten 5 stars
11/15/05 Richard Maratea The dramatic scences should not have been filmed in B&W. Major flaw. 4 stars
11/14/05 Taylor Fladgate Oscar Oscar Oscar - take that, Bushie! 5 stars
11/12/05 Titus This was gorgeous, pertinent, and brilliantly executed. Best picture of the year, for sure 5 stars
11/11/05 Ionicera flawed but ambitious and relevent 4 stars
11/05/05 jcjs schizoid J. McCarthy's Hitlerian contamination of freedom exposed by E.R. Murrow, truth 5 stars
11/03/05 baseball-nut Not bad but Clooney can still do better! 3 stars
10/24/05 Suzz perfection in directing, acting, writing and scoring 5 stars
10/22/05 Agent Sands Smart and exquisite filmmaking from one of the greatest actor-turned-directors EVER. 5 stars
10/18/05 the untrained eye proving that "Confessions..." was no fluke 5 stars
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  07-Oct-2005 (PG)
  DVD: 14-Mar-2006



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