|Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
Starring: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Frank Langella, Ray Wise, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, Tate Donovan, Alex Borstein
Director: George Clooney
The photography is luscious, even though it’s black and white. The subject matter is compelling, to say the least. The cast, while not A-listers, are actors’ actors, across the board. “Good Night, and Good Luck,” George Clooney’s directorial follow-up to 2002’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” boasts a laundry list of superlative qualities, and they’re almost completely undone by its bone dry approach to the source material, which Clooney wrote with Grant Heslov. For all the things they get right, the movie has far less emotional impact because of the one thing they got wrong.
The movie begins and ends at a banquet that features a keynote speech from Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn), the highly regarded reporter and host of the CBS show “See It Now.” His speech is no fluff piece; he challenges the audience to take a different look at the liberties we have and how quickly, and quietly, they can be taken away. He knows a thing or two about that; Murrow, along with his producer Fred Friendly (Clooney), decided to run a piece on “See It Now” about an Air Force lieutenant who was dishonorably discharged from the military because of the supposed Communist ties of his father and sister. The network knows that this is just begging for the attention of Junior Senator Joseph McCarthy, who is full tilt boogie into his communist witch hunt. (Curiously, McCarthy is not played by an actor, but shown solely through archived footage.) Sure enough, Alcoa refuses to air commercials while the piece plays (they have military contracts), and Murrow knows that he’s putting his and the network’s future at risk.
The most unmistakable thing about the movie is the fact that everybody smokes, everywhere. Murrow actually smoked on the air during his shows, a notion that would be unheard of today. Clooney wisely keeps the pace steady, resisting the urge to punch up (or, in one subplot, sex up) the story in any way. Strathairn, the most underrated actor in Hollywood, is superb as the unflappable Murrow. You know he’s out to take a stand, but he’s not in a hurry, and he’s not in a tizzy to do it. He’s cool as a cucumber, even though everything around him is on the verge of collapsing. Strathairn gets solid support from Clooney (who, admittedly, is just being Clooney) and Frank Langella (as CBS President William Paley), not to mention a heartbreaking performance from Ray Wise as Murrow’s smeared fellow CBS anchor Don Hollenbeck.
And yet, despite all of this, the movie doesn’t hit its mark. Maybe Clooney was a little too worried about being labeled a pinko himself (can’t trust those Hollywood types, you know) if he dared to bring any of McCarthy’s undesirable tendencies (alcoholism, alleged homosexuality) into the mix, and the movie comes out even handed to a fault. One thing’s for sure, it could have used some levity; there are a couple laughs here and there, but for the most part the tone is deathly serious. And while the material should be treated seriously, it shouldn’t smother viewer the way it does here. The abundance of McCarthy’s archive footage slows things down to a crawl at times, as well.
So “Good Night and Good Luck” isn’t perfect. Big deal. Clooney still comes out of this better off than he was before he made it, because with this movie, he’s shown that he has taste, skill, and no interest whatsoever in picking a project solely to increase his star power. More importantly, he’s shown that good actors want to work for him, which is high praise, indeed. Hopefully he’ll get the tone right next time.
The only bonus material featured on the single-disc release is an audio commentary with George Clooney and a fifteen-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, a paltry offering considering its Academy Award buzz.