Good Night, and Good Luck.
Good Night, and Good Luck is a well-meaning reenactment of the historic moment when Edward R. Murrow took on Senator McCarthy. But it never fully comes to life as a movie in its own right.
In the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy began a witch hunt in Washington and Hollywood to cleanse the nation of ''commie sympathizers.'' No one dared stand up to him for fear of being targeted themselves, until journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) did an expose of the senator on his television program, See It Now. In doing so, he risked himself, the livelihoods of the reporters working for him and the reputation of CBS. The network stood behind him, although very reluctantly, and Morrow swayed public opinion--a landmark moment in broadcast journalism.
David Strathairn is wonderfully subtle as the legendary Murrow, from small, nervous facial tics as he prepares to go live on the night of his controversial broadcast, to his barely concealed contempt for the puff pieces he has to do, like an interview with Liberace. Patricia Clarkson and Robert Downey Jr. also do nice work as a married couple who hide their relationship since it's against company policy, but their characters--and indeed, all of the characters--are all very thinly sketched. The meatiest supporting role belongs to Ray Wise (Laura Palmer's crazy dad on Twin Peaks), as CBS news anchorman Don Hollenbeck, who is barely hanging on after being labeled a ''pinko'' in the right-wing press. George Clooney, as Murrow's producer, Fred Friendly, is low-key but still deftly funny. A number of supporting players, like Tate Donovan, don't have much of a chance to stand out. McCarthy himself is presented only in archival footage.
George Clooney, in his second outing behind the camera, is clearly going for a documentary type of feel, resulting in out-of-focus shots and quick pans that often land on nothing at all. Dramatic scenes are interspersed with so much unedited archival footage that after a while it does feel like you're watching a documentary, although a documentary would likely have provided more context. For some reason, a jazz singer (Diane Reeves) is frequently seen performing in a studio at CBS or at a club that Murrow's staff all frequents. The musical interludes are lovely but ultimately rather pointless. You have to respect Clooney's wanting to tell this story, and to tell it an unadorned, non-Hollywoodized kind of way that Murrow himself would likely have approved, since he didn't approve of mere ''entertainment.'' But, except in a few rare moments, the film remains more of a dry history lesson than a movie in its own right.
Although wryly directed by George Clooney and supported by compelling performances, especially from David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck is still the cinematic equivalent of unbuttered toast: dry, dry, dry.