Movie Review 2008 #54: Good Night and Good Luck

The story of Edward R Murrow and Joseph McCarthy, directed by George Clooney, and starring David Strathairn as Murrow, Clooney as his producer Fred Friendly, Jeff Daniels, and Robert Downey Jr, too.

Shot in Black and White, the movie is an exploration of the events in the early 1950’s. Senator McCarthy’s Communist witchhunts are in full force, a reign of terror in Washington and beyond. Loyalty oaths are being circulated at networks. Its a dark time for America, and respected journalist Murrow is willing to shine a light on that darkness…
Some parts of the movie work, and some don’t. First the direction and cinematography are a crisp and intimate black and white. No large epic this, the scenes rely on dialogue, facial expressions and reaction, and body language. As a director, Clooney captures all of this well. Straithairn is an decent choice for Murrow (and he did get a Academy Award supporting actor nomination).
Other things in the movie work less well. A subplot with Downey’s character doesn’t really go anywhere and doesn’t contribute to the overall narrative. If it was intended a sign and consequence of the times, it doesn’t quite match up with the main story of Murrow and McCarthy.
Last, the movie has a “preaching to the choir” problem. If you don’t already have a decent idea of the history and times here, like I did, this movie will put you a bit at sea. Its a little too insular to those who do not have a basic grasp on the times. Without that grasp, I think the movie has a far smaller impact, visually and viscerally. The movie can be a bit didactic, rather than entertaining. I was not entertained by the movie as much as I should have been.
I enjoyed the movie, but I suspect that this movie is one of those which gets more critical acclaim (Oscar nominations) than actual love.