Good Night and Good Luck.
As history often reveals, one war begins after another has concluded and for the United States, the peace dividend from World War II seemed to exist for mere months at best. Former allies quickly faded, with the Soviet Union establishing satellite governments in Eastern Europe, while the People's Republic of China emerged under the control of Chairman Mao. The Soviets developed an atom bomb much faster than anyone predicted, thanks in part to espionage activities, which led to the highly publicized trials of Alger Hiss (found guilty of perjury) and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (convicted, executed). The Berlin Blockade was established in 1948, resulting in a year-long allied airlift. Two years later, a shooting war erupted in Korea. And in the midst of it all, American citizens built bunkers and lost sleep over the idea that atomic bombs could strike the nation's cities. Inevitably, some were convinced that the enemy was here the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was established in 1946, gaining its greatest notoriety for the subsequent Hollywood blacklist. Meanwhile, just a few years later, an enterprising junior senator from Wisconsin decided to launch his own crusade against communists, whom he was convinced worked at sensitive levels of the nation's government. He even claimed to have a list of names. In retrospect, his political career was brief, and he never had the sympathy of Presidents Truman nor Eisenhower. But the name Joe McCarthy has since become synonymous with the "Red Scare," and as long as a nation at war fears enemies within, the very concept of McCarthyism will resonate. George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck may be a period film, but of all of the 2005 Best Picture contenders, it was the most contemporary with its admonition that we "must not confuse dissent with disloyalty."
One wouldn't expect Edward R. Murrow to be a dynamic television presence, which he never intended to be in any case. A long-standing reporter with CBS, Murrow first rose to fame during World War II, where he began his legendary Blitz broadcasts with the words "This is London." It's also where he happened upon another famous phrase, ending his reports with the "good night, and good luck" that Londoners regularly offered each other. At his heart, Murrow was a radio man, an elocutionist, a rationalist who believed that the power of the word surpassed all. As such, he distrusted television, which he famously described as "wires and lights in a box," a manipulative visual medium that had the power to persuade, but also to sedate and numb. Still, TV was where broadcast journalism was headed, and Murrow continued to pioneer on the small screen with the investigative program "See It Now" and interview show "Person to Person." And despite his misgivings, "See It Now" would serve as the platform for his most famous journalistic battle, which forms the centerpiece of Good Night, and Good Luck starting with the 1953 dismissal of an Air Force enlisted man over sealed charges alleging communist sympathies, Murrow (David Strathairn) and his producer Fred Friendly (Clooney) bring to light some dubious U.S. military policies, and then follow it with another program that critiques the country's foremost commie-baiter, Sen. Joe McCarthy. It's a moment that marks the birth of serious television journalism, even if Edward R. Murrow's finest half-hour couldn't prevent the rise of sitcoms and game-shows, where TV quickly found its most profitable voices.
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Thankfully, Edward R. Murrow's legacy remains intact despite the fact that his "See It Now" program lost its prime-time position, one of the show's directors, Don Hewitt, would launch "60 Minutes" in 1968, which stands as the single most successful television show of the past three decades, as well as an unapologetic inheritor of Murrow's journalistic ideals. For this, Good Night, and Good Luck is a welcome look back to a previous generation where news reporters were just beginning to figure out how to use the enormous power of television, with a knowing concern that they also could abuse it. If George Clooney's film were merely about that, it would be more than enough, particularly with his winking inclusion of vintage materials, such as a cigarette commercial (smoking Kents "makes sense") and a Liberace interview that's brimming with double-entendre. However, the film's parallels with today's post-9/11 headlines are its most salient features and Clooney admits that he hopes to cast doubt upon such things as the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps, and Guantanamo Bay detainees. Defenders of the Bush administration doubtless will claim that none is "McCarthyist" in the strictest sense, but rather an expansion of law enforcement, similar to Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus or the FBI's roving wiretaps on Mob suspects. But Murrow's words seem oddly prescient as he insists that "the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one." As Murrow, David Strathairn moves from noted supporting actor to an Oscar-nominated leading role, here capturing not only Murrow's rigid on-screen persona, but also his causal side among "Murrow's boys" in the newsroom, and even brief moments after the camera fades and he reveals unspoken emotions. Clooney was concerned about casting someone too famous as Murrow; as for McCarthy, he felt it was virtually impossible, leading to the senator playing himself via film footage. Newsreels fill out much of the scenes exterior to the CBS newsroom and a local bar, including McCarthy's famous non-denial denial on CBS and Annie Lee Moss's appearance before the McCarthy committee. The best is McCarthy's own defense at the Army-McCarthy hearings, during which Army lawyer Joseph Welch uttered the words that finally ended his career: "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"
Warner's DVD release of Good Night and Good Luck features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Clooney and longtime pal/co-writer-producer Grant Heslov offer a tongue-in-cheek commentary that's full of Clooney's self-effacing dry wit (e.g., "Nobody in this movie got paid a lot of money, because we put together a huge package for ourselves.") Also on board is a behind-the-scenes "Good Night and Good Luck Companion Piece" (15 min.) and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.