(5 stars out of 5) ESSENTIAL
The George Clooney-directed Good Night, and Good Luck accomplishes what many films based on political material fail to do - it presents an intelligent and provoking story without politicizing itself and subsequently polarizing its audience. And the result is the best film of 2005 to date.
A period piece, and a semi-biographic drama, Good Night takes place in the early 1950's, in the midst of the anti-Communist campaign led by Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy. The straightforward, warm, and yet brilliant cast comprises most of the CBS news production team covering the trials and events, led by news anchor Edward Murrow (David Strathairn) and his producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney).
Utilizing black and white film, 50's nostalgia, a jazz soundtrack, and a meticulously detailed newsroom set, Clooney takes us back to the time of the trials and inquiries. Frequently using archival footage not only to provide the audience with context, but also to illustrate the group of journalists reacting to McCarthy as the events take place and the stakes rise, we witness Good Night unfold as the newsmen and women begin their idealistic attempts to present the facts and question the possible violation of constitutional rights.
Without a doubt, the standout performance of the film belongs to David Strathairn in his turn as CBS anchor Edward Murrow. Delivering lines as a top-notch, consummately professional journalist, Straithairn conveys his landmark editorial statements with conviction and confidence. Even though he delicately transmits a slight trepidation when the studio lights dim and and broadcast feeds end - accurately mirroring the nervous anticipation of the crew members who are fully aware of the possible public repercussions in their questioning of McCarthy - Straithairn still gallantly shuns the pressue coming from his media bosses and government figures in an effort to galvanize his friends and co-workers to finish the job.
We watch Murrow become a leader and a reluctant hero figure, as he quietly makes an ethical stand on behalf of his entire production team. Murrow and Friendly's risks lead to the initial voicing of dissent in the American public, allowing the rest of the country to question McCarthy's unforgiving, presumptuous, and brash tactics for the first time, if not condemn it. Strathairn's performance is superb, and he is assured an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
Clooney's character serves more of a supporting role, essentially setting up Murrow as a friend and colleague throughout the film's entirety. Perhaps more important was Clooney's role in getting the film made at all, as he was instrumental in bringing part-time entertainment financier and full-time billionaire Mark Cuban into the fold. Cuban serves as an executive producer, and bankrolled some of the project.
Normally, politically charged films fail miserably to intelligently question the issues they hope to address. Good Night, and Good Luck is a rare exception, as it delivers a thoughtful and outright patriotic message resulting from a turbulent time in our nation's political history. As liberal as Clooney's political views and statements may be, he is still a smart filmmaker, realizing that a story well-told is better than an attack well-planned.
Michael Moore, are you watching?