Now Showing: Good Night and Good Luck

George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck, the story of the Edward R. Murrow team at CBS during the McCarthy era, is deliberately underwhelming. Filmed throughout in black and white, the film uses actors only for the CBS figures and relies on newsreels for the rest of the characters. And what newsreel! It's as though the story took place in the beginning days of motion pictures rather than in the 1950s. The shots are grainy and purposefully choppy, as if to convey that we're being presented with something in its fetal stages.

David Strarhairn's Murrow is so super sardonic one begins to wonder if he's human. It's as though he's nothing but a smoldering desire to show up a liar, and his incessant smoking adds to the effect. There probably has never been a movie with as much tobacco smoke in it as this one has. Every scene is filled with smoke and one leaves with the sense that there was never even five minute period in most of the characters' waking day when they didn't have a cigarette in their hands or mouths.

The film does manage to put across the pervasive fear of being linked, in any way, however innocent, to Communism. That anti-Communism functioned in the 1950s as a psychotic hysteria is gradually coming to be understood although it's probable that most people still don't grasp its destructive effects. To be a Communist then was as bad as being a child murderer, and even to acknowledge that one understood Communism's critique of capitalism was simply to be a criminal, with no hope of explaining oneself.

There's little explanation of who McCarthy was or why he did what he did. The film never wallows in melodramatic revelation of the villain's evil. McCarthy is just there and has to be countered. And that's about all a viewer who previously knew nothing about the reckless senator could take away from a viewing.

Much more fully examined is the tension within network news itself and the deep dread that truthful reporting will reduce revenues. Frank Langella as the CBS head William Paley, is not exactly a bad man, but still, there's something creepy about him. He is presented as a person who has never taken a single step without assessing its financial effect. His brain seems nothing more than an energetic dollar counter.

Good Night and Good Luck is certainly not dramatic entertainment in its traditional mode, but it is watchable  And, clearly, it's good that we have films of this character from time to time.

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