by Ken B.
Good Night, and Good Luck. celebrates the power of journalism and then subtly brutally chastises contemporary journalists for an aversion to giving facts and telling the truth. The film details Edward R. Murrow (DAVID STRATHAIRN)’s mission with his colleagues at CBS News’ See It Now to expose the practices and absurdities used by Senator Joseph McCarthy during his self-aggregated Red Scare in the 1950s, at the ever-bearing risk of being the politician’s next target. Archival footage of Senate hearings are shown – “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?”.
Strathairn embodies Murrow, the collected anchor, with the titular phrase “Good night, and good luck” rolling off his tongue in a disarmingly natural way. While there are plenty of scenes featuring the man in regular settings, the most memorable and praise-worthy are both the on-air sequences and the recreation of his 1958 address to the Radio-Television News Directors’ Association (RTNDA), which bookends the picture. McCarthy is simply shown via existing footage. This is fitting, since there are few actors that could believably portray the insane passion and manic attitude the man displayed throughout these infamous years of his life and career.
Atmosphere is key here. The black-and-white cinematography led by Robert Elswit is wise and at times striking – early on, the first we see of Murrow is at the start of the film, about to give his speech to the RTNDA. He is shown in silhouette and profile at the wings of the stage. White cigarette smoke flies out of his nose and mouth, dissolving over the light of the ballroom beside him. In terms of music, there is no score in the traditional sense of the word, but every half hour or so, a jazz song performed by Dianne Reaves will break through the developments of the preceding.
The script by director George Clooney (who has a supporting part as See It Now producer Fred Friendly) and producer Grant Heslov is clear and deliberate, never reaching for extra tension or fiction, but displaying the facts as they occurred, and in terms of mood, that is more than enough. However, in spite of its greatness, the screenplay is also Good Night, and Good Luck.’s major weakness. The movie, clocking in at 93 minutes, is too short. Yes, too short. The story of Murrow and McCarthy during this era is a deep and fascinating one, but at times the film feels like it’s barely scratching the surface, and instead simply running for a plain summary.
With the likes of Strathairn, Clooney, Robert Downey, Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Ray Wise, and Frank Langella, everyone in the main cast stands out with something to offer, no matter what the part. Their characters are parts of a goal – to expose McCarthy as terrorizing, lying, and paranoia-inducing. When the sequence comes where a handful of McCarthy’s statements are carefully debunked on an episode See It Now, we await each moment, and what will follow. Good Night, and Good Luck. is a great movie in that respect, yet disappointing in its habit of running by too quickly, and not giving us more time to linger in its style, execution, and substance.