[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B002C4I10I][/pullquote] Set during the McCarthy-era USA Good Night, And Good Luck covers the battle between journalistic integrity and the overt bullying tactics of HUAC and the hunt for communist sympathizers during the Cold War. Directed by and co-staring George Clooney, he brings his knowledge of his father’s work as an early broadcast journalist to bear with a keen eye for accuracy surrounding the era.
While giving a speech about the state on journalism we are taken back to Edward Murrow’s (David Strathairn) time at CBS where he launched a campaign of journalistic integrity against Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House of UnAmerican Committee. Supported by his producer, Fred Friendly (Clooney) and the rest of his news team, he uses his on-air reputation, still maintained from war-time broadcasts to attack what he sees to be a cancer in the American society.
The setting and subject matter are compelling stuff and hark back to a dark time in America’s history. Clooney, still a fresh-faced director uses some interesting ideas in his work here, notably the decision to show it in black and white and to use real footage of McCarthy to represent the man himself. The silky monochrome adds a period authenticity to the narrative, while the idea to use actual footage can be explained by comparison to Murrow’s own use of the man himself. Neither wanted to be seen to editorialise the facts and so allow the junior senator from Wisconsin to self-destruct by his own hand.
Being a character-driven political drama the film relies on the performances of its cast, and it is here that it excels. The supporting cast made up from a variety of character actors are superb. The films only sub-plot about Shirley and Joe Wersbha (Patricia Clarkson and Robert Downey Jr.) highlights McCarthyism in miniature form as the couple are forced to hide the truth of their marriage because of the draconian rules of CBS itself.
Strathairn’s turn as Murrow however is the standout. While he bears little resemblance physically to the man himself, his mannerisms are accurate and his slow, pointed speeches that helped bring down the institution in the end are gripping and mesmerizing to behold. Addressing his audience directly, with a purring low-key voice he brings to life all the problems that he sees with the hearings and with a man he constantly refers to as ˜the junior senator from Wisconsin.’ His goal is clear, he means to break the imposing and terrifying image that McCarthy created for himself.
The wonder of this sublimely underplayed character of wit and stoic belief is that he’s not perfect. He is prone to mistakes as the exchange with the head of CBS (Frank Langella) reveals. While rebuffing a series of lies told by McCarthy in response to a broadcast, he carefully does not correct the claim that Alger Hiss was convicted of treason and the implication is that he did not want to be seen to be defending a communist. This editorializing of the truth forms the films central debate and while Murrow is clearly the hero, he is by no means a saint.
The film is almost exclusively set at the CBS studio and focuses almost entirely on Murrow’s fight against the hysteria of the time. The claustrophobic nature of the early recording, with producers basically working directly beneath the journalists in box-like rooms is wonderfully realised. Everyone in the film smokes all the time, and the rich cigarette fumes permeate every scene. This all adds to the overwhelming claustrophobia, which adds credence to the films central message and makes Good Night, And Good Luck a thrilling, driven and tight film that does exactly what it sets out to do.