Good night, and Good Luck (2005) – George Clooney’s riveting study of the McCarthy era

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George Clooney’s second directorial effort Good Night, and Good Luck depicts the attempts by legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow to take down U.S Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. If you’ve read Clooney’s biography, you’ll know that he majored in journalism and that his dad was a broadcast journalist. After looking at his meticulous handling of the subject matter, one is compelled to say that he was the perfect candidate to helm it.

good-night-and-good-luckThe film opens in 1958 with the CBS staff honoring Murrow (David Strathairn) at an event and then it cuts to 1953 showing the bustling activity inside the offices of CBS. Murrow is the host of the CBS show See it Now and his news team comprises of his co-producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney) and Joseph Wershba (Robert Downey Jr.) who is the writer, editor and correspondent of CBS news.

2005-good-night-and-good-luck-001Murrow and Friendly are planning to go on air with the story of Milo Radulovich, who was given the boot by the U.S Air Force because his dad had read some Serbian newspaper. Murrow thinks this is definitely connected to McCarthy. Sig Mickelson (Jeff Daniels) who is the Director of CBS News, is not pleased to hear this.  He warns them that they’ll be putting the reputation of CBS News at risk if they go ahead with this story.

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When Murrow finally runs the story, McCarthy tries to discredit him by falsely accusing him of being a member of a radical Labor Union called the Industrial Workers of the World in the past. When William Paley (Frank Langella), chief executive of CBS asks Murrow about this, he disregards him. Friendly and Murrow plans a full blown retaliation against McCarthy. The series of subsequent events leads to the triumphant culmination of Murrow’s battle against McCarthy.

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To those of you outside the U.S that are not familiar with the McCarthy era, it would help to read up a little on the subject before you watch the film. It does a wonderful job of examining the fear and paranoia that was prevalent during the this era. Plenty of careers and lives were ruined as a result of his accusations. The evidence that he sometimes used to accuse some people of their involvement in Communist activities were inconsequential. He tried to bring down anyone who dared to go against them. Murrow and Friendly were fearless.

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In Murrow’s speech at the beginning of the film, he talks about the power of the media. He stresses on the importance of using the media to make the public aware of the truth and not use it to delude, amuse or entertain them. The film is a very relevant one in this day and age. What Murrow said about the state of media back then holds true for today’s media as well. It has only gotten worse. How many news organizations today are genuinely concerned with informing and educating the public? Most of the time, you see the public being fed with red-herrings and trashy, insignificant news items that are in no way going to be of any help to them.

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I loved the film for the same reasons I loved another great film based on real-life journalists, All the President’s Men. The rich and high contrast black-and-white cinematography is simply gorgeous. I hear they actually shot the film in color and then converted it to black-and-white in post-production. So all the on-set lighting arrangements were done keeping this in mind. The fabulous cast here deliver some of their finest performances, especially David Strathairn. I was very impressed with Strathairn’s performance in this. I first saw him in The Bourne Ultimatum (he played the primary antagonist Noah Vosen) and only came across this film later.

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