Compelling Historical Drama With Present-Day Implications
Good Night, and Good Luck was nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director (George Clooney), Actor (David Strathairn), Original Screenplay (Clooney and Grant Heslov), Art Direction and Cinematography. It is entertaining and thought-provoking, and it's my idea of a nearly perfect little movie.
Tribute to a Legendary Broadcast Journalist
The film is a dramatization of events in the professional life of famous radio and television newsman Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965). Murrow is played by David Strathairn in one of the best performances I've ever seen.
The movie is set in the 1950's when Americans were extremely apprehensive about Communism. The film spends quite a bit of time on an incident where Murrow used his See It Now program on CBS television to defend the rights of Milo Radulovich, an Air Force Reserve officer labeled a security risk because of his relatives' politics. But Murrow calls the show on Radulovich "just a little poke with a stick to see what happens."
Murrow's "poke" provokes a warning from people with connections to Joseph McCarthy, a senator who wields power by accusing individual Americans of being supporters of Communism. The warning comes in the form of a packet of information supplied to CBS boss William S. Paley (Frank Langella), purporting that Murrow is a Communist sympathizer. But instead of backing off, Murrow and his producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney) air a show consisting of a 30-minute attack on McCarthy.
I had thought Good Night, and Good Luck would be about Murrow versus McCarthy, but it turns out to be more about Murrow putting his career on the line over the issue of program content, and he doesn't emerge from the battle unscathed. Above all, I see the movie as a salute to Murrow for his willingness to risk his own well-being in order to do what he thought was right.
Touches of Humor and Jazz Standards
Good Night, and Good Luck is a taut drama, but the filmmakers realized it would be too intense if they didn't relieve the tension periodically. One of the ways they accomplished this was through the use of humor. For example, they show Murrow hosting his other CBS TV series, the lightweight Person to Person, which consisted of him conducting celebrity interviews, mostly with show biz folk like Gina Lollobrigida. I got a chuckle out of Murrow's interview of Liberace, in which the gay pianist claims he's looking for the right woman to marry.
Another tension-relieving device is the performance by singer Dianne Reeves of jazz standards in a 1950's style. I especially enjoyed her renditions of "When I Fall in Love," "You're Driving Me Crazy," "How High the Moon" and "One for My Baby."
Archival Footage From Television's Early Years
No actor portrays Joseph McCarthy in Good Night, and Good Luck; instead archival footage of the senator is shown. It appears to me McCarthy failed to grasp how to make effective use of the then-new medium of television. This can be seen in the footage of the appearance of Annie Lee Moss before McCarthy's Senate committee. McCarthy behaves as though he believes the only thing that matters is to convince TV viewers he has uncovered a Communist in the Pentagon, and he seems unaware that he comes off looking like a fanatic and a bully.
A Married Couple With a Vulnerability
The rights of individuals is a major theme in Good Night, and Good Luck, and there's a subplot centering around a workplace issue that's still hotly debated today. In the film, CBS policy does not permit a husband-wife pair to be employees, yet Joe (Robert Downey Jr.) and Shirley (Patricia Clarkson) Wershba are a married couple who both work there. They want to keep their jobs at CBS, so they try to hide their marriage from the other employees. As the movie winds down, there's a scene I found very interesting where the Wershbas are confronted by their boss Sig Mickelson (Jeff Daniels).
Smoking May Look Glamorous, But
I had forgotten how much people used to smoke, and I was a little surprised at the way Good Night, and Good Luck deals with that. Many of the characters seem to always be puffing away, and they look sophisticated and glamorous while doing it. But the film tries to counteract that impression by inserting a TV commercial for Kent cigarettes that was specifically tailored for Person to Person. For a 21st-century viewer, the commercial seems ridiculous, particularly when you know that Murrow, a longtime heavy smoker, died of lung cancer at age 57.
DVD Review Continued on the Next Page: Only Two DVD Extras, but Both Are Worthwhile