Case Number 10288: Small Claims Court


Warner Bros. // 2005 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // November 6th, 2006

The Charge

We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular.
-- Edward R. Murrow

The Case

Good Night, and Good Luck recounts the weeks during 1954 in which esteemed CBS television journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn, Missing in America) confronted the unscrupulous tactics of self-appointed Communist hunter, Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Murrow, who became a celebrated and trusted journalist after his reports from London during the Blitz, made the successful transition from his radio report, Hear It Now, to the televised news-magazine program, See It Now. As portrayed here, it was his deep regard for accuracy and due diligence, accompanied by his ever-present welcome to any rebuttals, that drove his work and compelled him, in March 1954, to take on the seemingly unstoppable paranoia-mongering McCarthy.

As the crew of See It Now culls through the daily events that may serve as content for their regularly televised show, steely-eyed commentator Murrow steps forward to assert that the pressing story of the day is McCarthy, a politician who should be squarely challenged. While his show director Fred Friendly (George Clooney) is skittish about going up against such a formidable foe, he is nonetheless convinced of the moral rightness to expose the deceitful tactics of the junior senator from Wisconsin. CBS Network head Bill Paley (Frank Langella, Superman Returns) is likewise averse to the idea yet ultimately concedes, allowing Murrow and team to pursue their investigations and report their facts. Murrow draws first blood, utilizing footage of the McCarthy during the anti-Communism committee hearings and directly exposing the senator's underhanded methods. As the newspaper editorialists are quick to respond, some in support yet others intent upon discrediting the team, the tension rises at CBS with those involved fearing an overwhelming backlash. From lawyers questioning the production crew to major sponsor ALCOA teetering on the brink of pulling their support for the station, Murrow and team continue their fight, ultimately confronting McCarthy himself on See It Now. Murrow implores the "silent Americans" to step forward and bring an end to this political demagoguery before it's too late.

The $64,000 question to be asked after the final frame of Good Night, and Good Luck is likely, "Is George Clooney trying to suggest the same sort of political malfeasance is going on today in the war against terror?" Ask the question if you must but don't spend too much time pondering the answer.

No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices.
-- Edward R. Murrow

Clooney himself is visibly coy about the potential for parallel (as evidenced in his comments in the accompanying Good Night, and Good Luck Companion Piece) though his political leanings are of little secret these days. To view the picture as a poison pen letter of this sort is to short-change its impact and effectiveness in recounting the events of 1954 when America was cowering under the cloud of the Red Scare. The film is stark and startling in its narrative, effectively employing a black-and-white film stock to punctuate the contrasting opinions in the country during the wistfully regarded "simpler days" of the 1950s. Avoiding the risks of casting an actor to portray McCarthy (and therefore gamble away the impact of the picture should it be deemed an agenda-driven hit piece), Writer/Director Clooney uses actual kinescope and film footage of the McCarthy proceedings, allowing the senator to be portrayed in his own words, his own voice, and his own demeanor. The effect is riveting, reminding us of the uneasiness that a noir-like approach brings to a taut drama such as this. While the picture plays out in generally a docu-drama style (some additional drama was added but largely the picture follows the facts), it is not a boring affair by any stretch. The tension is thick, unrelenting, and emanates into your viewing area. As Murrow readies himself for the first McCarthy-centric broadcast, our hearts pound during the countdown to airtime, possibly causing us to hold our breath when Friendly silently taps the newscaster's leg at the final second. Moreover, the confrontations between McCarthy and his victims, between Fred Friendly and two U.S. admirals, and between Murrow and Paley are difficult and disquieting. Although some have said this film, one of 2005's nominees for Best Picture, was slow and laborious in its unfolding, I found quite the opposite effect -- the picture seemed to end much too quickly. Credit the spot-on performances by Strathairn, Langella, Jeff Daniels, and the perfectly fragile and disconcerted Ray Wise as late-night anchorman Don Hollenbeck. Their portrayals give the film moral conscience yet also illuminate the unfounded terror that simultaneously has stricken them all. As it stands, the picture whisks you into its paranoid world almost effortlessly and reminds you of a time when journalistic ethics and appropriateness, not sensationalism and unchecked allegations, drove television's early commentators.

Good Night, and Good Luck is best viewed, then, within its own time boundaries and can become quickly diluted when held up as a sort of missing link to today's political situation. While the likes of Penn, Sarandon, Streisand, Baldwin and other entertainers feel compelled to raise some sort of social flap, Clooney actually succeeds in presenting an excellent film despite any hidden agenda he may have had tucked in his coat pocket.

We are in the same tent as the clowns and the freaks -- that's show business.
-- Edward R. Murrow

Clooney's immediately recognizable face tempts to undermine the effectiveness of his Fred Friendly but he deserves applause for deferring the spotlight to the significantly more capable Strathairn. Unlike other top-drawer actors in his current peer group, Clooney shows admirable restraint, resisting the urge to highjack the affair in order to pad his own self-esteem. Instead, he has recognized from where the energy of this film emanates and allows Strathairn to lead the way. Therefore, the actor/writer/director is to be commended for this film, one that is worthy of viewing by just about anyone and certainly makes a greater statement on the need to return to a situation of media accountability much more than any potential pot-shot at a current Administration.

Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn't mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.

-- Edward R. Murrow

Released by Warner Brothers in a combo-format HD DVD / Standard Definition disc, Good Night, and Good Luck is further scintillating in its new HD presentation. While the HD format has been touted for its incredible renditions of breathtaking color, it also provides an immediately noticeable boost to the black-and-white stock. Here, the picture benefits most from the inky-dark blacks that deepen shadows and strike dramatic contrasts in nearly every frame. Add the incredible detail levels that reveal the slightest eye twitches, the emerging sweat on brows, and the perpetual columns of swirling of cigarette smoke, and the film takes on a depth that is simply not present in the SD alternative. The audio is offered in the usual Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 mix that performs perfectly if not a bit too subtle (again, Clooney resists the temptation to over-enhance the audio qualities that too many Hollywood hack jobs do so routinely). The special features, the same the accompanied the original SD release, are found here on Side B along with the SD version of the film. You'll find the same audio commentary between Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov as well as the Good Night, and Good Luck Companion Piece. The theatrical trailer is also present.

In the end, its immediately clear why Good Night, and Good Luck tallied six Academy Award nominations in 2005. More to the point, it reminds us all how hungry we can be for solid narratives in our filmgoing fare, the sort that is so often steeped in unrestrained bombast and brilliance in a way that panders to and ultimately underserves an audience. Perhaps that's the third most relevant message here -- a good film starts and ends with a good story. Here's one now.

We cannot make good news out of bad practice.
-- Edward R. Murrow

Case dismissed.

Review content copyright © 2006 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 93

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English, HD DVD)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, SD DVD)

* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks
* Audio commentary
* Featurette: Good Night, and Good Luck Companion Piece
* Trailer

* IMDb