Liberal George Clooney's second film, Good Night, and Good Luck takes its title from the sign-off of famous TV newsman Edward R. Murrow. The actor of Ocean's 12 and the upcoming Syriana has made a riveting recreation shot in black and white pitting a chain-smoking Murrow against the hard-boiled Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Clooney has a sharp ensemble to make this nuanced, understated material trenchant considering the media's involvement in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina.
Murrow (David Strathairn) expresses at the outset of television's inability to involve a country of what really was going on, especially from a political standpoint. Murrow is captivating in being instrumental in undoing the power of the senator responsible for the Communist witch-hunting in the 1950's.
In World War II, Murrow was a radio announcer in London and became a celebrity, almost a pioneer for the likes of "60 Minutes" with his program "See It Now." He would work on the attacking McCarthy through one of the segments aired on CBS, Milo Radulovich. Unsubstantiated allegations would cause this Air Force member to be a security risk, but he would be reinstated.
CBS founder William Paley, imperiously done by Frank Langella, and loyal, diffident producer Fred Friendly (Clooney), helped Murrow go after McCarthy. The methods of the relentless Wisconsin senator were revealed from clips and Clooney's decision to have no one play him turns out to be an impudent move. The editing smooth cuts in grainy archival footage.
McCarthy's answer to the informative program is to portray Murrow as part of the "Red Scare", but it turns out to be a costly rebuttal. The screenplay by Clooney and Grant Heslov is an incisive history lesson, perhaps more politically-charged than intended.
Murrow's other show, "Person To Person" was the key to making "See It Now" and there is an interesting, amusing scene with the host edgy in talking with pianist Liberace.
Under the outstanding Straithairn, Ray Wise savors the part of the fated man under Murrow, Dan Hollenbeck. The protege would fall prey to a persistent television critic.
The spare production includes an on-screen Dianne Reeves performing five songs that reflect on the unsteady course of events. Maybe Clooney wanted the crooning to feel as authentic as his aunt Rosemary.
His follow-up to the underappreciated Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, about the purported secret life of "Gong Show" host Chuck Barris, is telling in a very manageable running time. The only recognizable actress is Patricia Clarkson whose "See It Now" reporter had to live a closeted marriage to the one played by Robert Downey, Jr. due to network rules. Hardly anything in this vivid period picture seems out of place, and with Strathairn and McCarthy going at it, the passion swirling around this clash is articulate, truthful, and classy.