In the press notes, George Clooney says of his second directorial effort, "Good Night, and Good Luck": "There’s an opportunity that one in a hundred young kids actually might learn who [Edward R.] Murrow is and have some discussion and have some understanding of what and how dangerous a democracy can be if fear is used as a weapon." Ah, George â€” there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell one in a hundred young kids actually might watch your tasteful recreation of CBS newsman Murrow’s war with Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 50s. "Good Night, and Good Luck" is
a fairytale comfort food for disaffected liberals, and we won’t deny that we felt a warm glow watching it: Because their consciences and personal integrity demanded it, these journalists took a stand! Against HUAC! And took the higher ground! They used McCarthy’s own words as weapons against him! And America responded!
The obvious comparison here is "All the President’s Men," but "Good Night, and Good Luck" lacks the tension of Alan Pakula‘s film, and the slightly sleazy rakishness of Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford‘s Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. David Strathairn is great as Murrow, Brylcreemed and world-weary, but he’s a white knight, armed with a news magazine show and backed by a group of go-get-’em young reporters. Strathairn has Murrow’s staring-down-the-camera, carefully enunciated delivery down pat, but it’d be nice to see more of his personality (as in one remarkably eloquent glance after being congratulated on his chat with Liberace for "Person to Person," the celebrity interview show Murrow did "to pay the bills"). Clooney is fine as Murrow’s longtime co-producer and friend Fred Friendly; Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson don’t have much to do as two members of the news crew who are secretly married, and provide the only real glimpse of a home life we get in the film.
A lot of vintage footage from the era is integrated into the film, most notably of McCarthy â€” producer Grant Heslov claims this is because no matter who they got to play McCarthy, people wouldn’t find him believable: "They were going to think that the guy was over-acting." We think the decision was a mistake â€” with the film’s action so confined to the CBS building, the fact that Murrow’s great foe is only seen piped in on newsreels and television screens around the office downplays the stakes involved â€” as much as the real Murrow and McCarthy only battled it out over the airwaves, seeing Strathairn taking on a tape of the long-dead senator is a bit reminiscent of watching someone pretend to have a conversation with a pre-recorded video of themselves.
The camerawork is generally as straightforward as the story, though sometimes Clooney shows a touch of Soderbergh‘s (who executive produced) influence, playing with focus and off-center close-ups. He does have a nice trick where, when the show is live on air, we see the production board, with one screen showing whatever footage they’re rolling, and another keeping on Murrow and his off-air reactions.
"Good Night, and Good Luck" opens in limited release on October 7.