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Good Night, and Good Luck   A

Warner Independent Pictures / 2929 Entertainment

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: George Clooney
Writer: George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Cast: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels, Ray Wise, Tate Donovan.

Review by Sean O'Connell

Isn't it funny how George Clooney, the actor, couldn't wait to move on from television -- he got his start on The Facts of Life, made repeated cameos on Roseanne, and achieved star status as a member of ER -- but Clooney, the director, finds inspiration by returning to it?

He follows up his extraordinary directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, about the mysterious dark side of The Gong Show host Chuck Barris, with another foray into the mind, heart, and soul of a celebrated television personality. This time it's legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow, the founding father of broadcast journalism who used his weekly pulpit as host of the influential program See It Now to question the Communist-hunting tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Their skirmish became a public fight between public figures, and was recognized as the premiere example of a journalist taking a side on an issue, editorializing as opposed to strictly reporting the day's happenings. Together with longtime producing partner Fred Friendly (Clooney, in a supporting role), Murrow and his news team work up to a direct confrontation with McCarthy, much to CBS's chagrin.

At this rate, Clooney will be remembered best for his directorial efforts than for his respectable acting and grossly overanalyzed social practices. It hardly seems possible that the mature, confident, and comprehensive Good Night, and Good Luck marks Clooney's second effort in the director's chair. No matter how many film sets he has populated or moviemakers he has observed, there's just no way Clooney could have become be this proficient, this fast. Are there practice films lying around his Italian mansion? Heck, I'd watch deleted scenes and outtakes from Clooney's pictures over most of the full-length fodder that reaches theaters these days.

Good Night defines the term "ideal casting." The superb David Strathairn plays Murrow, but Clooney wisely places him opposite archival footage of McCarthy for dramatic effect. Only journalism junkies will recognize names like Joe Wershba and Don Hewitt -- both contributed immensely to See It Now and went on to produce its indirect offshoot, 60 Minutes -- though these newshounds are given depth and solemn integrity by Robert Downey Jr., Grant Heslov (also the film's co-writer), and a bankable cast of character actors. Recognizable talents are as impressive as we'd expect, though Ray Wise actually surprises with a wounded and fearful turn as Don Hollenbeck, a CBS anchor singled out by McCarthy as a "pinko."

While favoring one side -- Murrow's -- Clooney balances his coverage of the historic events. Murrow catches heat from CBS brass, personified by William Paley (Frank Langella). The anchor's publicized attacks ruffle feathers with his program's chief investor, Alcoa (the Aluminum Company of America), adding another layer to Clooney's teetering stack -- the influence of advertising on editorial.

Clooney's brilliant achievement is an undivided fly-on-the-wall perspective of a bustling newsroom. Without losing focus on Murrow, Clooney nails the adrenaline rush of breaking news and emphasizes the power of a medium being used to its potential. The director's strongest scenes show the calm before the storm, the weighty minutes of silence before the "On the Air" sign lights up, signifying the start of what will be a historic broadcast.

The events of Good Night occurred more than 50 years ago, though arguments pertaining to the rights of an individual and government actions taken in the name of national security will strike chords with a modern audience. Clooney's assured direction makes sure Good Night appears credible and not a conspiracy-theory screed shouted by activists leaning left or right.

Some will apply their own politics to it, but they're missing the point. This is an incendiary attack on complacency, a thorough defense of television's former influence in the days before reality contests and the tabloid trappings of E! Good Night, and Good Luck occupies a chapter of history when words spoken via television captured a national audience. It should raise the pulse and bubble the red blood of any audience members proud enough to call themselves Americans.

Review published 10.18.2005.

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