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GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr., Frank Langella
Director: George Clooney
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 93 Minutes
Release Date: March 14, 2006

“We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”

Film ****

In the realm of TV journalism, no single individual pioneered the power of the medium better than Edward R. Murrow. He was a true journalist, illustrating everything positive about the profession. He never hesitated in confronting controversial topics or controversial figures. Murrow’s famous clashing is chronicled in George Clooney’s outstanding Good Night, and Good Luck.

The target of Murrow’s clashing is Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the height of the Red Scare in the early 1950s. McCarthy was becoming notorious, in many eyes, for hunting down and bringing forth individuals he accused of having communist ties for hearings. The nation was in doubt panic. Murrow (David Strathairn) and his TV news team, headed by Fred Friendly (Clooney), took a bold step and chose to ignite a battle of words via Murrow’s famous “See it Now” program.

It all begins with a story regarding an Air Force officer who was dismissed after being curiously labeled a security risk. The officer’s rights to a fair trial had been violated all because his father was accused of having communist ties. Despite reservations from both Colonels of the Air Force and those in power at CBS News, Murrow goes ahead with the story, fully aware of the backlash it may induce.

It is the first step in Murrow’s confrontation with McCarthy, which his next show will be entirely about, particularly about the Senator’s conduct. One of the mesmerizing qualities of Murrow’s talking points was that they weren’t, in any way, methods of bullying. Murrow used thoughtful intelligence and at one point, even quotes Julius Caesar to get his point across.

Obviously, Murrow’s broadcasts triggered responses both positive and negative. He is deemed by opposers as both a communist and a defender of the communist party. Even Murrow’s superiors feel that he may have gone a little one sided in his reporting, but to his credit, Murrow was simply stating what were facts. His on air war with McCarthy continues and produces many consequences for Murrow and his news team.

Give director/co-writer/co-star George Clooney much credit. His film is unquestionably one of the most outstanding pieces of filmmaking to come out of 2005. His previous directorial effort, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, showcased his ability to create an original cinematic style while including bits of TV game show footage. With this film, Clooney steps his game up with two masterstrokes.

The first is the crucial choice to shoot the film in Black and White, and it demonstrates that this nearly forgotten format still has a place in contemporary cinema. Color would never have been the proper way to film the movie. The atmosphere and sense of time and place could’ve only existed with Black and White in tact. The authenticity would simply be non-existent otherwise.

The second is an example of the film’s brilliance. Clooney has managed to incorporate actual footage of the real Sen. McCarthy, as well as additional footage from the CBS News archives, such as Murrow’s one on one interview with Liberace, as well as, wouldn’t you believe it, a commercial for Kent cigarettes. This masterstroke helps in the authenticity even more, as you feel as if you’re watching the news events unfold right before your eyes.

But the heart of the film is the performance of David Strathairn, who for my money gave the best performance of the year as well as his career. As was the case with Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator and Jamie Foxx in Ray, Strathairn injects every inch of himself to fully become the real life character he’s portraying. The resemblance is uncanny, as Strathairn looks and sounds like the real Murrow. The “See it Now” news segments are gripping, because through Strathairn’s phenomenal vocal delivery, you forget that it’s a performance and that you’re seriously watching the real thing.

Needless to say, I would’ve wanted to see Strathairn walk away with the Oscar. However, the truth is that the Academy nominated five performances in the Best Actor category that were equally deserving. Strathairn’s performance mesmerized me the most, but in truth, the Oscar should’ve been split amongst the five nominees.

And the film itself walked away with zero awards, despite garnering six nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Every Oscar season, there’s a great film that nominated heavily but goes home empty handed. This year had two; the other was Steven Spielberg’s Munich. In the end, don’t judge a film by how many statues it wins, it’s still fantastic achievement. If you don’t believe me, look back at The Thin Red Line and The Shawshank Redemption.

Without question, this is the best film about journalism to emerge since All the President’s Men. It is both a monumental tribute to the great pioneer of broadcast journalism and an astounding piece of filmmaking from George Clooney, who has officially made his mark as a truly gifted filmmaker.

We can only hope that films as wonderfully made as this are brought to life in the future.

Good night, and good luck.

Video ****

This might be the most amazing Black and White presentation I’ve ever seen on a single DVD, though I do have a lot of catching up to do. Warner’s anamorphic presentation is amazing in all around detail. It enlivens the authentic look and feel of the 1950s setting, in addition to the newsroom set pieces. Not a single area of flawed images detected. The fine folks at Warner have scored a home run with this one.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is superb in delivering the limited number of bonuses for a dialogue-oriented piece. The dialogue, as important as it is, is delivered as clear and as beautifully as it can be delivered. The wonderful jazz music numbers courtesy of Diane Reeves, which are played in between numerous sections of the film, produce some nice work for the speakers. A tremendous job, indeed.

Features **

A light list of extras, but if you like engaging commentaries, then the one with George Clooney and co-writer/co-producer Grant Heslov is something of a treat. Clooney a dedicated jokester, and his humor never lets up on this track. Also included is a film companion piece and a theatrical trailer.

Summary:

Good Night, and Good Luck is one of last year’s best films. It’s an outstanding piece of filmmaking, as George Clooney’s marvelous directing and David Strathairn’s historic performance blend to make one terrific film experience. If you haven’t seen it, “SEE IT NOW”!

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