Directed by George Clooney, starring David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr, Frank Langella and Ray Wise.
There's nothing lightweight about George Clooney's second directorial outing, 'Good Night, and Good Luck.' Set during the time of the McCarthy witch-hunts in 1950s America, it is based on the true story of legendary journalist Edward R Murrow and the team at CBS who helped start the downward spiral of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his reign of terror. During the years 1950 to 1954 McCarthy, described irreverently by Murrow as "the junior senator from Wisconsin", exploited the American public's fear of Communism. His unsubstantiated and sensationalist attacks on people suspected of being members of the Communist Party created an air of paranoia, destroying jobs, reputations and lives in the process. Few stood against him.
Murrow, played here with consummate style by David Strathairn, first came to prominence with his broadcasts from wartime London. As this film opens - named after his signature closing remark - he is fronting the popular news documentary programme, 'See it Now', heading up a team of reporters who are all to become broadcast legends in their own right. And we see how, as Murrow, with the help of his team and producer Fred Friendly (a subtly forceful Clooney) decides to challenge McCarthy on air.
In just 93 tight minutes, Clooney has crafted a taut study of a time when journalism was about more than just the advertising revenue. He keeps it simple with long, dialogue-heavy takes which, although superb, reveal the only real failing of 'Good Night, and Good Luck. - the lack of any real drama. Although Murrow and his gang sweat about the potential consequences of their every action, they are still seen to have the upper hand. However, the slice of history shown here, the ideas presented concerning the proper role of news media and the terrific performances all more than make up for this.
Stunning black-and-white cinematography from Robert Elswit complements the time setting and helps the documentary footage to blend in seamlessly with the filmed actors. And what actors. David Strathairn is splendidly convincing - steely, yet affable - as Murrow, constantly wreathed in picturesque cigarette smoke. There's a dynamic strength to Frank Langella as network boss Bill Paley and Ray Wise gives a touching portrayal of news anchor Don Hollenbeck. Patricia Clarkson and Robert Downey Jr, while faultless in their roles as secretly married couple Shirley and Joe Wershba, have to battle with an ill-defined subplot in one of the film's few week links.
In short, 'Good Night, and Good Luck.' is a good-looking, powerfully acted, deeply felt and deeply committed meditation on issues of political exigency and press freedom. It should be obligatory viewing for journalists, students of journalism and anyone with even half an interest in media. A very fine film indeed.