It’s been suggested that history repeats itself because we didn’t listen the first time. Consider Good Night and Good Luck a timely reminder of the consequences of failing to balance national security with personal liberties and a chronicle of one man’s willingness to point an accusing finger even at the risk of it having it cut off.
Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) is a 1950s news man for CBS and host for a show called “See It Now.” In 1954, Murrow decided to expose a military man being tried on charges unreleased from a sealed envelope; the man was neither able to contest the unknown charges nor confront his accuser. This became the first shot fired against Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a man who led a personal crusade to root out Communists he claimed had infiltrated high levels of the U.S. government. Risking having the fingers pointed at them as well, Murrow and his news team set out to draw McCarthy into a debate to expose his tactics and paranoia.
George Clooney co-directs, co-stars, and co-wrote this fictionalized documentary-style story surrounding CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and his 1954 exposure of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s “witch hunt” for Communists. Shot completely in period black and white, the semi-arthouse feature jumps in with both feet to immerse viewers in the look, feel, and pressures of the time, including actual footage and the advertising of that age. Everyone smokes, everyone drinks, and everyone looks to their own while taking on a politician that everyone feared.
What really comes through on the screen is the believability of all the people involved and how frightened everyone really is. The pressure comes through with every glance, every move, and every word. The effect is intoxicating, drawing viewers through a portal in time and placing them in jeopardy along side the players. Even the low-tech details of what were once the cutting edge of broadcast television feel faithfully recreated.
One of the biggest points that can be made comparing then to now is that there is no one now who fills the shoes of Edward R. Murrow; in the aftermath of the Dan Rather debacle and the sensationalism of “infotainment,” there’s really no one person in the media that Americans collectively can turn to for trust in reporting. While that may be the bad news, the good news is that front line in-your-face reporting is still alive and well, and every blogged opinion in cyberspace is starting to get the attention of major media. In a time when there were few Edward R. Murrows, there are plenty of citizens now willing to question the truth of such matters and demand those with the authority be held responsible for its use. For everyone else not asking those questions, this film is for you and all for those who already do.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)