Saturday, October 29, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck (IMDB) (Netflix)
Before Brokaw, there was Cronkite, and before him was Edward R. Murrow, trenchcoat and constant cigarette, but reeking of gravitas. When Senator Joseph McCarthy started accusing everyone of being a Communist through his hearings, Murrow (played by David Strathairn) and his producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney, who also co-wrote and directed) had to decide whether to be "fair and balanced" or expose his abuses.

By combining black-and-white photography, old footage and lots of cigarette smoke, Clooney creates a confined, atmosphere-laden little gem—there's not an exterior shot to be seen, with almost all the action taking place in the CBS offices, and no score other than a few well-placed bumpers from a CBS studio torch singer. Strathairn does the iconic Murrow proud, but Clooney deliberately undersells Friendly, who later became the strongest proponent of TV journalism ever seen in the business, and created the gripping, enlightening format that bears his name and is occasionally seen on PBS. Through archival footage, Joe McCarthy plays himself (and was accused of over-acting by the test audiences). The repartee between Murrow and Friendly keeps this well away from becoming a diatribe, and the (true) scene where Murrow has to ask Liberace about his marriage plans is priceless.

Ultimately, "Good Night" is an compelling indictment of the past four years, where fear-mongering and gutless journalism combined to lethal effect. There's also gold in this movie's future, in the form of Golden Globes from the foreign press and Oscars from the lefties in Hollywood nursing homes. I think I just talked myself into seeing this movie again.