Good Night and Good Luck
A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)
FILM SYNOPSIS: In the early
days of broadcast journalism, TV newsman Edward R. Murrow (Strathairn)
takes on Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities
Committee. Murrow and his staff, including producer Fred Friendly
and Joe Wershba, defy corporate pressure and bring to light the
shady tactics perpetrated by McCarthy during his search for communists.
What results is a public feud and a backlash against McCarthy
that cements Murrow's place in journalism history.
Featuring: David Strathairn,
George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Ray Wise
MPAA Rating: PG - for mild thematic elements and
Genre: Drama, Historical, Political
Running Time 90 minutes
The first thing that
struck me about this film is the stunning black
and white photography. The second thing that struck me is the
cigarette smoke. In one scene at a banquet, every single person
seems to have a cigarette in hand. These two elements transport
us back to the 1950's, when television was in its infancy. Thus
the stage is set for George Clooney’s engrossing depiction
of the confrontation between TV journalist Edward R. Murrow (excellently
played by David Strathairn) and Communist-hunting Senator Joseph
Night, and Good Luck” was a Murrow’s signature phrase
as he signed off his program, “See It Now.” In 1954,
Murrow, supported by his producer Fred Friendly (Clooney), decides
to take on the feared Wisconsin senator. This required taking
a stand against the scare tactics and intimidation of McCarthy.
Such a stance would require courage and integrity, as well as
the backing of the network, CBS. William Paley, head of CBS, warns
of the loss of sponsors, but Murrow and Friendly said they would
personally make up for any lost revenue. Nervously, Paley agrees
to back the decision.
Perhaps thinking that no one could play McCarthy
better than the Senator himself, Clooney cleverly uses actual
film of McCarthy. In a technically seamless way, the footage of
McCarthy in the Senate and on “See It Now” are interwoven
with the dramatic film. You can feel the tension as the McCarthy
and Murrow take their positions.
Murrow’s courageous decision to take on a
US Senator in the midst of the Communist scare was a risky one
indeed, and there were casualties. When fellow CBS news reporter
Don Hollenback praises Murrow on air, he becomes a target of print
columnists who support McCarthy, with a tragic outcome. Murrow
himself has to fend off accusations about his own patriotism.
A more far reaching casualty of the confrontation
was the loss of Murrow’s investigative reporting from television
on a regular basis. Even though Murrow helped to publicly discredit
McCarthy, and thus win a victory for freedom, “See It Now”
was relegated from its weekly prime time slot to a monthly Sunday
afternoon slot. The loss of sponsors and revenue eventually won
out. We know this is the beginning of what passes as television
news now. Today we have soft news, heavy on entertainment and
personal interest stories, and light on hard-hitting journalism
championed by Murrow. Today, news is entertainment. Local newscasts
are rarely more than car crashes and reports of violent crimes.
It’s ironic that Murrow is honored by all journalists today,
even though he could not find a home on contemporary television.
Despite a distracting subplot about married employees
in the newsroom, Good Night, and Good News is a fine film. As
a dramatic film, it’s engrossing, well-written and acted.
More importantly, Clooney and his collaborators have made a film
that values personal integrity, courage, and Veritas. Good Night,
and Good Luck is a reminder to all seekers of truth of the rewards
and perils of such a noble quest.
Tom Condon, OP