George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck, a eulogy to journalism captured in black-and-white, is undeniably one of the best newsroom dramas ever made in the history of Hollywood. The film, marked by its loud overtones of idealism and journalistic ethics, revolves around the professional life of newsman Edward R. Murrow, played brilliantly by David Strathairn, who has hitherto been ritualistically typecast as the ‘guy who calls the shots’, be it in Fracture or Bourne Ultimatum. What makes Strathairn’s performance in Good Night, and Good Luck fundamentally different from his other performances of similar bent, is how perfectly he manages to command respect in a character which he snugly fits into, something he simply couldn’t have accomplished in the other films where the lead character’s BMW has had more screen-time than the character played by him. Thankfully, his portrayal of Murrow does not go in that direction, and most certainly doesn’t disappoint Clooney or the film-buffs, as he looks perfectly at ease in front of a typewriter with a cigarette in between his lips. Though it will be blasphemous to compare Good Night, and Good LuckÂ with a Woody Allan movie, the black-and-white technique used in the film’s cinematography certainly serves its purpose compared to a movie like Manhattan, and takes us effectively back to the years of glamorous post-War journalism. It is the calm grandeur of those little, perhaps romanticized, scenes that justifies shooting a 21st century film in black-and-white.
The plot of the film, though wafer-thin, isn’t tedious. The viewers are taken back to the political landscape of the 1950s, where US Senator Joseph McCarthy is dutifully sowing the fear of Commies in the American soil, as we see the CBS news-team headed by Murrow gearing up against the McCarthian authoritarianism, defying even the corporate policies of its own management. In his liberal pursuit of all that was dreamed by the founding-fathers of the land-of-the-free, Murrow is joined by his producer Fred M. Friendly (played by Clooney himself) and a bunch of other journalists, including the “forbidden” couple, Joe and Shirley Wershba (played by Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson respectively). We see the pre-newsroom Jeff Daniels as Sig Mickelson in the movie, as he does a neat job playing the grumpy editor of the show. All the characters except Murrow fade into the background as his rivalry with Senator McCarthy reaches its crux and from thereon, the tempo of the film starts climbing steeply. There is a thriller like quality to this build-up, even though we are subtly aware of the triumph of the hero that is about to follow. This is primarily because of the fact that the spine of the film is constructed with a series of breath-taking televised debates that materialize between these two men; and the rhetoric with which the print media responds to their arguments generously fuel the on-going fire. The dialogues in the movie are also exceptionally refined and powerful, and manage to get the excitement across to the viewers in rather unambiguous terms.
What makes Clooney’s attempt at reinventing history a masterpiece in its own right is its ability at revealing the universality that characterizes the fourth-estate, and the profound understanding that the fights that journalism is fighting today is no different from what it was fighting a few decades ago. For whatever it is worth, the bar is raised here, and an attempt is initiated to do more than entertain the American audience insulated by complacency, and misguided by a ferocious sense of entitlement.