Clooney gets the facts right with ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’

Allison Corneau

With names like Brian Williams and Jon Stewart on the brains of many young reporters today, a mere mention of 1950’s CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow may boggle a few minds. Actor/director George Clooney is hoping to change that with his latest directorial effort, “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

Detailing the well-documented clash between Murrow and Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, Clooney’s new film offers an inside look at the Communist era from a reporter’s point of view. Murrow, the CBS broadcaster who came into viewers’ homes on a nightly basis by way of his “See It Now,” and “Person to Person” programs, was publicly accused by McCarthy of being a Communist. It fueled a debate that ultimately culminated in a broadcast featuring the two men speaking their minds in front of America.

David Strathairn (“A League of Their Own”) steps into the lead role as Murrow-seamlessly capturing every bit of the broadcaster’s essence, from his speech patterns to the constant cigarette hanging from his mouth. The film offers a supporting cast that, while the name recognition quotient is high, allows viewers to really focus on the story rather than the actors who are involved in the telling of that story. Clooney, his own father a longtime newsman, pulls double actor/director duty, going in front of the camera to personify Murrow’s producer, Fred Friendly. His portrayal is solid, and delivered with just enough subtle impact to balance out Murrow’s tenacity. Effective to the point of not being overbearing, Clooney offers some of the film’s most witty quips.

Slow news day at CBS? No problem for Friendly, who, when assigning stories for the following day, cheekly instructs reporters to “go out and make the news-rob a bank, mug an old lady…(because) we have no show for tomorrow.”

Viewers are given an inside look at the newsgathering techniques executed by the CBS crew, and witness the ethical dilemma the journalists are presented with when covering their latest story. Navy pilot Milo Radulovich was recently dismissed from his branch of service amid accusations of being a Communist, and upon gathering the facts, Murrow believes McCarthy is somehow behind the dismissal. Murrow reports the news, facing opposition from apprehensive network brass, concerned about ramifications resulting from coverage. The show must go on, however, and Murrow looks the other way when corporate and sponsorship entities express disapproval. The broadcast results in a response from McCarthy, who is invited by Murrow to speak his piece. It is at this time that, due to his coverage of the Radulovich case, Murrow is accused of sympathizing with a Communist.

The black and white film offers an interesting perspective on the Murrow/McCarthy feud, making it a probable mainstay in journalism classes in the near future. Illustrating the importance of double-sourcing reports and always making sure your facts are correct, filmmakers certainly do the legendary Murrow and his CBS crew justice. No detail is overlooked, with even the most careful attention paid to background materials like newspapers, which carry an authentic 1950’s dateline.

Scenes where the filmmakers’ attention to detail pays off include those in which Murrow is interacting with McCarthy. Depicting the senator using decades-old file footage rather than casting an actor to bring him to life proved fruitful, preserving the integrity of the true-life events and adding a unique twist to the authenticity of the old school broadcasts.

After taking Best Screenplay honors at the 2005 Venice Film Festival, and selling out its opening night New York Film Festival screening, “Good Night, and Good Luck” is a must-see for not only those interested in the journalism world and Murrow’s work, but also those starved for a flick that leaves viewers hopeful that such issues will actually spur a debate amongst Americans looking for change.

Our rating: Three stars (out of four)