- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

“Good Night, and Good Luck,” a homage to TV journalism in what might be regarded, 50 years later, as a sterner, less compromised decade, derives its title from the familiar broadcast sign-off of the late Edward R. Murrow.

Directed by George Clooney from a screenplay by himself and Grant Heslov, who operates the TV division of the Clooney-Steven Soderbergh production apparatus, “Good Night” is a one-sided and hero-worshipping memoir that takes you by surprise every now and then.

A radio stalwart of World War II, reporting from London during the Blitz and from various battle zones after the U.S. became an open combatant, Mr. Murrow (1908-1965) went on to become the most prestigious news commentator on television during the medium’s infancy in the 1950s. He hosted oddly contrasted shows on CBS

the sober, issue-driven “See It Now” and frivolous, celebrity-smitten “Person to Person.”

It’s “See It Now” at a pivotal juncture in 1954, singling out Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, Wisconsin Republican for criticism during his ongoing hearings about communist infiltration of the government, that the movie aspires to salute. On March 9, Mr. Murrow took direct aim at the senator’s methods, assembling a montage that displayed Mr. McCarthy at his most abusive. This polemic contributed to the climate of righteous indignation that cost the senator power and influence before the year was out.

“Good Night” is a labor of love indulged Mr. Clooney by Warner Bros. in gratitude for the box-office success of “Ocean’s Twelve.” Self-evidently partial to Team Murrow, this small-scale, compact, black-and-white movie is nevertheless knowing enough to recognize chinks in Mr. Murrow’s grave, pontifical armor. For example, a priceless clip from “Person to Person” captures Mr. Murrow, portrayed by David Strathairn, in an unwary moment of small talk with Liberace.

The filmmakers are almost exclusively cocooned in the New York studio of “See It Now” and the corporate offices of CBS. No attempt is made to eavesdrop on the senator and his cronies. Absurdly, there isn’t even a McCarthy role for an actor to sink his teeth into; the prototype is depicted only in fleeting, inadequate archival footage.

Mr. Clooney and Mr. Heslov themselves play Murrow associates: producer Fred W. Friendly and director Don Hewitt, respectively. (The latter, of course, reincarnated some of “See It Now’s” methods in his own durable public affairs series, “60 Minutes.”)

The filmmakers fritter away portions of a tight running time with subplots about minor figures in the CBS fraternity: the secretly married “See It Now” staffers Joe and Shirley Wershba (Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson) and newscaster Don Hollenbeck, whose suicidal despair is attributed to a hostile Hearst columnist, Jack O’Brian.

—Lacking a first-person presence in the McCarthy camp, the filmmakers recruit a friendly antagonist within the CBS family: Frank Langella in a superlative performance as William S. Paley. The network chairman backs the Murrow beau geste but expresses eloquent misgivings, persuaded that Mr. McCarthy is on a self-destructive spiral, anyway.

The scenes between Mr. Langella and Mr. Strathairn have a subversive fascination. They undercut the Murrow idolatry by demonstrating that the corporate authority figure outranks the journalist as confident decision-maker and man of the world.

Mr. Strathairn seems a bit shaky as both the public and private Murrow. Perhaps it’s astute to hint at doubts and prima donna undercurrents, especially when one ponders Mr. Murrow’s heavy smoking habit, but the actor never really relaxes enough to duplicate his subject’s telegenic finesse.

**1/22 and a half starsght, and Good Luck”

RATING: PG (Adult subject matter; fleeting profanity)

CREDITS: Directed by George Clooney. Screenplay by Mr. Clooney and Grant Heslov. Cinematography by Robert Elswit. Production design by Jim Bissell. Costume design by Louise Frogley.

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes




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