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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.57%
Average: 3.81%
Pretty Bad: 1.9%
Total Crap: 8.57%

10 reviews, 45 user ratings

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Good Night, and Good Luck.
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by Tom Ciorciari

"The way they were."
5 stars

“...if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. “ Jim Jennings, 2005? No, Edward R. Murrow, 1958, though the sentiment is easily as applicable today as it was thirty-seven years ago, if not more so.

But that’s politicizing and, despite one’s expectations, George Clooney’s brilliant examination of how a few good men fought the good fight against one of America’s most well-known and reviled bullies, actually avoids any potentially hobbling liberal leanings by concentrating not on the issue of Communism itself but, rather, Murrow’s concern with, and battle over, Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy’s neo-Nazi tactics. Is Clooney making a comparison and, by using those particular words of Murrow’s, pointing his famously Democratic finger at our current administration and their hip pocket news boys over at Fox? Well, perhaps. But that really isn’t what drives the consistently excellent Good Night, And Good Luck. Really.

The films starts on a dazzling note at the Radio-Television News Director’s Association dinner in 1958, at which Murrow (David Strathairn) is the keynote speaker. But before we get to that speech Clooney’s camera treats us to a nearly five minute montage – a living photo album, if you will – of the faces in that room, most of whom we will become much more familiar with as the film goes on; the only sounds audible the constant murmur of conversation, nothing distinct, while cigarette smoke wafts and the languid jazz of that era plays in the background. It is a bravura sequence, all the more so for Clooney’s avoidance of any true dialogue and refusal to hone in on any particular individual, choosing to linger instead on the cocktail party atmosphere; the audience being given ample time to assimilate the incredibly rich and detailed aura created here by the first rate production team of production designer James D. Bissell, art director Christa Munro and set decorator Jan Pascale, and so meticulously photographed in a smoky black and white that so exquisitely evokes the period by cinematographer Robert Elswit. The documentary effect is flawless, bringing to mind similar moments in Bob Fosse’s equally brilliant 1974 faux documentary, Lennie. As a matter of fact Good Night... on a whole is reminiscent of the best film making from that most recent of golden ages–character and intelligence are to the fore, and Clooney expects, nay demands, his audience keep up.

Once Murrow begins the speech quoted above the movie flashes back some five years. Murrow, the “face of television” hosts both the popular news show “See It Now” and the talk show “Person To Person” on CBS. With his crew of yet-to-be broadcast legends in their own right Murrow comes across the story of Lieutenant Milo Radulovich, who was kicked out of the U.S. Air Force for being a “security risk”. Declared guilty without a trial, Radulovich had been asked to denounce his father and sister, but refused, the charges against him sealed. Murrow and his producer Fred Friendly (Clooney) believe that McCarthy, whose relentless pursuit of anyone he feels may have at any time had connections to the communist party, may have had something to do with Radulovich’s dismissal, and, despite opposition from CBS, reports this on his show. And so begins a war of words that will eventually end with both Murrow and McCarthy not ruined, but effectively stripped of power: Murrow consigned to the “graveyard” of Sunday afternoon television, and McCarthy, his “witch-hunts” ended, censured by the Senate. Dry material, to be sure. But Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov have produced an engaging, erudite screenplay that, like 1976’s All The President’s Men and Robert Redford’s somewhat similarly-themed Quiz Show (1993), breathes vitality into these seemingly prosaic, though certainly historically significant, events.

And what of the theme? Good Night... focuses its attention not on the issue of communism, but the tactics that McCarthy employed to root out those he felt were a threat to national security and, more to the point, the role that television played in first empowering the man and later, reluctantly, taking him down. For though Murrow was certainly the messenger and, as things progressed, part of the story himself, an unpopular turn of events with those at the network (“we’re supposed to report the news, not make it,” he is told at one point), it was television the medium, that allowed these events to take place. As Murrow himself states: “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.”

Maintaining a cinema verité style so vivid that you feel as if the images on screen are your own long lost memories throughout, Clooney makes us forget that we’re watching a film, not by focusing on the meticulous period detail but, rather, by letting his film simply exist in it. Using only a few sets and relying exclusively on dialogue to present the story Good Night... resembles nothing so much as one of the live television plays of the time that Clooney is so obviously enamored of (he executive produced and co-starred in a live remake of the classic cold war film Fail Safe in 2000 and is rumored to be working on a live television remake of 1976’s classic Network–do we detect an ongoing theme?), employing jazz vocalist Dianna Reeves’ sultry performances to great effect as bridges from scene to scene. Casting himself once again in a supporting role as he did in his directorial debut, 2002’s woefully underseen gem, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, Clooney lets his co-stars shine. And shine they do. Strathairn, who does laconic as if he invented it, is simply superb; his performance not a bit of flashy mimicry, but a flesh and blood rendering; Murrow’s intelligence accurately etched into his every movement. In a disposable subplot concerning married coworkers forced to keep their relationship hidden due to CBS’ strict policies Robert Downey, Jr. (and, boy, isn’t he having a nice comeback year?) and Patricia Clarkson are so engaging they add a certain gravitas to these otherwise tangential away-from-the-newsroom scenes. Other standout performance include Ray Wise (Twin Peaks’ über-creepy Leland Palmer) as tragic newsman Dan Hollenbeck, perfectly exemplifying the creeping paranoia of the times, Frank Langella as steely network head William Paley, and, in a wise, and widely-reported, bit of casting, Joseph McCarthy as himself via newsreel footage, obviating the necessity to “be fair” to the character by having him literally speak for himself.

Utilizing a uniformly excellent cast and a thoroughly accurate eye for the period George Clooney has proven that he truly is a director to be reckoned with and not merely a dabbler (sorry, Messers Costner and, yes, Gibson). In a year that has, thus far, provided very little in the way of truly good film (though, as always at this time of year, still holds promise) “Good Night, And Good Luck” emerges as not only one of the best films of the year but one of the best films to have ever been made about that dark period in American history. And considering the many, many films on the subject that truly is quite an accomplishment.

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originally posted: 11/14/05 02:29:19
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User Comments

9/13/09 Jeff Wilder Great historical docudrama 5 stars
1/16/09 Shaun Wallner Awesome Story! 5 stars
7/30/08 mr.mike It was very well done.4.5 stars. 4 stars
5/19/08 davikariout great presentation 5 stars
3/22/08 Pamela White great chronicle of a man's life 4 stars
10/15/07 fools♫gold well-done and thoughtful 5 stars
6/06/07 gr117 Excellent! 5 stars
4/08/07 Rosie i thought it needed more context. events happened too fast MORE CONTEXT!!!! 2 stars
11/14/06 AJ Muller Means now what it meant then; don't let fear force lies into being the accepted truth. 5 stars
8/17/06 Mary Beth hard to follow; guess I didn't get it 3 stars
8/13/06 R.W.Welch No Hollywood hokum here. Straight stuff docudrama. 4 stars
6/16/06 Billy father, father 2 stars
5/10/06 Craig Call Very well done! 4 stars
5/09/06 Captain Craig Now you know what happened to TV and why! 4 stars
4/24/06 millersxing Powerfully exhibits an attention to detail and a trained focus of the historian's gaze. 5 stars
4/07/06 Quigley one of the most patriotic movies I've seen in a while. strathairn was amazing 5 stars
4/05/06 Annie G I felt like I was watching part 2 of a documentary-when did they introduce the characters? 3 stars
4/04/06 Josh Standlee Sorry, people. It had a great cast, but it ended too quickly. 1 stars
4/02/06 Phil M. Aficionado Precise but not as rich in context as I had hoped; didn't show Murrow as a human w/ family 4 stars
3/30/06 sbpat21 a marvelous film 5 stars
3/18/06 MP Bartley Too insular, but a gripping and intelligent character study. Superb acting helps. 4 stars
3/13/06 Roderick Cromar This is great! A movie for adults! With brains! 5 stars
3/08/06 Piz Straight-forward if not boring account of McCarthy vs Cronkite. Well done but very overated 3 stars
2/27/06 Monday Morning Extremely antiseptic -- smart but NO emotion, just speeches. 4 stars
2/22/06 malcolm brilliant. way more exciting than 'aliens versus predator.' 4 stars
2/14/06 John Senational piece of work - riveting, exiting and alas relevant 5 stars
2/14/06 Jin Horribly one-sided and impotent. McCarthy's work was taken way out of context. 1 stars
2/12/06 KCobain Boring, dull, and wishes it was All The Presidents Men with its abrubt ending to nothing. 1 stars
2/12/06 helen bradley Interesting, relevant, David Strathairn’s portrayal of Murrow brilliant 4 stars
1/03/06 john bale Tour de force by David Strathairn in a finely crafted and credible film. 5 stars
12/30/05 Agent Sands Perfectly handled and realized by one of the greatest & most underrated talents in a decade 5 stars
12/24/05 Green Gremlin :We have nothing to fear but fear itself" - FDR 5 stars
12/18/05 ownerofdajoint The early days of corporate media control over the bewildered herd are well depicted here 5 stars
11/18/05 M.F. superb 5 stars
11/18/05 Robert Braunfeld Caprures a time that seems to be lost but not forgotten 5 stars
11/16/05 Richard Maratea The dramatic scences should not have been filmed in B&W. Major flaw. 4 stars
11/15/05 Taylor Fladgate Oscar Oscar Oscar - take that, Bushie! 5 stars
11/13/05 Titus This was gorgeous, pertinent, and brilliantly executed. Best picture of the year, for sure 5 stars
11/11/05 Ionicera flawed but ambitious and relevent 4 stars
11/05/05 jcjs schizoid J. McCarthy's Hitlerian contamination of freedom exposed by E.R. Murrow, truth 5 stars
11/04/05 baseball-nut Not bad but Clooney can still do better! 3 stars
10/25/05 Suzz perfection in directing, acting, writing and scoring 5 stars
10/23/05 Agent Sands Smart and exquisite filmmaking from one of the greatest actor-turned-directors EVER. 5 stars
10/19/05 the untrained eye proving that "Confessions..." was no fluke 5 stars
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  07-Oct-2005 (PG)
  DVD: 14-Mar-2006



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