The Barenaked Archives – Good Night, And Good Luck

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.

The Barenaked Archives are reviews that I did for two previous websites. Sadly, they are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.

Of Crusaders and Journalists
Good Night, And Good Luck poster

The post-WWII era in America was one fraught with fear. Despite the eradication of the Nazi threat, a new one had emerged: that of our former allies, the Communist Soviet Union. The Cold War between “us” and “them” lasted some forty years, until the demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

During that time, fears of Soviet spies in the government ran rampant, and in the early ’50s, one senator stepped forward to take advantage of it: Joseph McCarthy.

McCarthy exploited the country’s fear and used it to conduct Communist witch hunts, and made outrageous claims as to how many supposed Communists were working in the federal government. Nobody was safe from the arm of HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee).

However, McCarthy went over the line one too many times, and noted newsman Edward R. Murrow, an anchor at CBS after having spent WWII in London as a radio reporter, went after McCarthy with his weekly news program, “See It Now.”

This showdown between Murrow and McCarthy is the subject of director George Clooney’s new movie, Good Night, and Good Luck. It takes us behind the scenes of CBS as Murrow (David Strathairn) and his “See It Now” producer Fred Friendly (Clooney) gather their team and the footage they need to take on Joseph McCarthy. Despite no doubt taking some liberties with history, Good Night, and Good Luck is an exceptional film.

The movie is filmed in black and white, an intelligent decision that immediately sets the tone, mood, and setting of the film. It’s also very contained: aside from about four scenes, it takes place entirely at the CBS studios.

Even so, the studio doesn’t feel at all like a safe haven; rather, the fear is just as palpable there as it is elsewhere in the country. The claustrophobic setting and the black and white film, as well as the decision to use archive footage of Senator McCarthy instead of casting an actor, all give the film a sense of authenticity that it otherwise wouldn’t have had.

David Strathairn does a great job as Murrow, who comes across as an idealist and even a crusader. Although Murrow was originally reluctant to switch from radio to television, he eventually came to the conclusion that television could and should be used to educate and inform the people, not just entertain them. And it was his responsibility to get that education and information to them.

This philosophy shows in the differing ways he approaches his two CBS programs: “See It Now” and “Person to Person,” a show that featured celebrity interviews. In the film, Murrow is willing to sponsor the advertising for a controversial “See It Now” program himself, but any compliments he gets for “Person to Person” he acknowledges with a cursory smile and nod. (The real Murrow must be rolling in his grave with the advent of “reality” television.)

The film does get a bit slow in places (especially when the black lady is singing), but for the most part it moves along at a good pace, with a runtime of just over an hour and a half.

Good Night, and Good Luck takes us back to a time when a news anchor was more than just a pretty face and gives us a journalist who knew that not every story has two completely logical sides. It makes you wonder if there’s anybody today who would stand up as Murrow did, or if there’s even anybody America trusts enough to do so.

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