I don’t know what it is about black and white films and George Clooney, but they sure make a hell of a combination. While I loved The Good German [Read my review here] which I saw some years ago, I thoroughly enjoyed Good Night and Good Luck [IMDB Link] quite a bit as well.
The movie deals with real events that unfolded in the CBS Broadcasting rooms in 1953 when television journalist Edward Murrow (played wonderfully well by David Strathairn) and his team led by Fred Friendly (George Clooney in a masterful performance) take on Senator Joseph McCarthy during his unruly and at times unjust crusade against Communist elements within the US government.
This movie must necessarily be seen in the context of the period in which it was set. These were days when McCarthy was quite successful in spreading the craze in the US regarding possible infiltration of the entire US government and its federal system by ‘card carrying communists’, as he termed them. He had formed a ‘one man commission’ where people suspected of being communist sympathizers were summoned to a trial, questioned by him and if found guilty, immediately terminated from their jobs. Most of the suspects were employed with the US Government and its various affiliated entities across the country. This ‘mania’ of Senator McCarthy achieved quite a feverish pitch and in fact an entirely new word ‘McCarthyism’ was coined to describe it. Read more about his crusade here [Link to Wikipedia article]
The movie Good Night and Good Luck is named after Ed Murrow’s signature sign off phrase which he used to sign off on all episodes of his show, See It Now. It starts with how Ed takes on one instance of the Senator’s excesses in accusing and summarily finding a USAF Lieutenant guilty of being a Communist sympathizer and having him terminated from services, and how this particular episode causes quite a ripple among loyal CBS viewers and how it probably was the first instance of any media in America taking on the Senator.
In this climate of fear and reprisal for being accused of being a Communist sympathizer, Ed Murrow goes on to follow up this one episode with another story of Annie Lee Moss, a Pentagon employee who was also a suspect. As Ed and his team continue with this series, general public opinion as well as that of others in the US Government slowly start changing towards Senator McCarthy and ultimately he is censured by the Government for his excesses.
Given that this is a movie which almost entirely relies on its dialogs and subtle expressions of its actors to carry the plot through, the entire ensemble cast has done an awesome job of it. The fact that the movie leaves a lasting impression on viewers is primarily due to the wonderfully played role of Ed Murrow by actor David Strathairn. In all the close up shots of his in the movie, you can clearly see the subtle changes in his expressions, and the fact that the movie itself is presented in black and white means that he had to put in that much more effort to make sure these expressions came out right on screen.
Another beautiful aspect of the movie which interested and entertained me a lot was how jazz music was used to segue between the various scenes. Most of the scenes either transitioned into or out of jazz music playing in the background. And the songs and the music blended in beautifully with the progress of the movie.
What particularly impressed me the most was Ed Murrow’s speech given to the Radio and Television News Directors Association in 1958 in which he clearly reminds the audience that the television as a device has immense potential to change the lives of people for good by disseminating relevant and useful information to them, but the fact was that he was also shocked and saddened by how this particular group was squandering the wonderful power of this medium by reducing it as a pure entertainment device.
The last portion of his speech, I think, is still relevant despite the fact that it has been 55 years since Ed Murrow made that speech.
A wonderful quote from the movie is also presented in the picture below.