Good Night and Good Luck

on October 07, 2005 by Annlee Ellingson
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In one of showbiz's more remarkable career about-faces, actor George Clooney has transformed supporting parts in TV's "The Facts of Life" and "Return of the Killer Tomatoes" into a breakthrough role in TV's "ER" and, ultimately, after admitted missteps ("Batman & Robin"), marquee status in smart popcorn fare like "Out of Sight," "The Perfect Storm" and "Ocean's Eleven." Like his producing partner Steven Soderbergh, who executive produces here, Clooney has amassed the industry capital to intersperse commercial with personal pictures. Writing and directing his pet project "Good Night, and Good Luck," he cashes it in.

Starting with his anchorman father's role model and family hero Edward R. Murrow (an uncanny David Strathairn in a star-making turn), Clooney and co-writer/producer Grant Heslov focus on the 1950s CBS newsman's on-air feud with Senator Joseph McCarthy. Defying corporate and sponsorship pressures, "the face of television" exposed McCarthy's scaremongering tactics during his communist witch hunt at the very real risk of becoming a target himself.

Shot in black and white, "Good Night" interweaves behind-the-scenes newsroom reenactments with archival footage of McCarthy himself and compelling extended clips from the actual hearings for a documentary-esque effect. Yet, with musical interludes by jazz crooner Dianne Reeves -- in another family connection, singing arrangements by Clooney's late Aunt Rosemary with her band -- and scenes that trail off into quiet stillness, there's artistry here, too, in the film's contemplative pace. Moreover, Clooney eschews delving into either Murrow's backstory or his personal life that a lesser picture would have exploited for sentimentalism.

But most provocative is how "Good Night" illuminates contemporary themes vis-a-vis the relationships among the media, government and parent corporations beholden to the bottom line. Amid CBS chairman Les Moonves' recently expressed desire to inject entertainment into the evening news and broadcast journalism's confrontations with public officials during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Murrow's struggles a half-century ago feel all too familiar. Starring David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr, Patricia Clarkson, Ray Wise, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels and George Clooney. Directed by George Clooney. Written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Produced by Grant Heslov. A Warner Independent release. Drama. Rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language. Running time: 93 min

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