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Warner Home Video presents
Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty."
- Edward R. Murrow (David Straitharn), sticking it to the junior Senator from Wisconsin

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: April 10, 2006

Stars: David Straitharn, Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr., Frank Langella
Director: George Clooney

MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements and brief language
Run Time: 01h:32m:47s
Release Date: March 14, 2006
UPC: 012569736788
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- AAB B

DVD Review

As the new face of CBS News, Katie Couric has some legendary shoes to fill, and we're not talking just about Bob Schieffer's loafers. For the patron saint of the news division of the Tiffany Network—for all of broadcast news, really—is Edward R. Murrow, and this film is a look at Murrow's finest hour, which, ironically, also sowed the seeds of his descent. Movie stars take a lot of heat, and a lot of it justifiable, for spouting off about topics on which they know little or nothing, and the kneejerk left-leaning politics of Hollywood is the stuff taken for granted by the hackiest comedians and the most rabid on the right. So you've got to give George Clooney a whole lot of credit—given his status in the film business, he could probably get a movie greenlit about anything, and here he demonstrates that he's both a skillful filmmaker and a canny student of history, with this story of a time when those on the airwaves thought it was their obligation to speak truth to power.

Murrow is a figure revered by those of previous generations, but rather an archaic figure to those of us born after his time. He was the voice of the Second World War in Europe for most Americans, broadcasting over the newly established CBS radio network, and made the transition when CBS moved to television. The bulk of this story is set in the early 1950s, when Senator Joseph McCarthy spearheaded investigations into the presence of Communism in American institutions: in the State Department, in the entertainment business, even in the Army. But this of course was no mere rooting out of America's enemies—rather, it was rather primitive schoolyard bullying, designed to intimidate and to destroy, and very effective it was, too. Conventional wisdom was that McCarthy's hubris would lead him to self-destruct, and in fact television was late to the party—print journalists had started going after McCarthy and his smear tactics, and TV seemed content to look pretty, to stay away from the tough stuff.

But not Murrow. The opening act for him, on his signature broadcast, See It Now, was a look at the case of Milo Radulovich, an Air Force officer drummed out of the service because of the political affiliations of his family, quite literally guilt by association. It's clear that this was just Murrow's warmup act, though—he was looking to go toe to toe with McCarthy, knowing that the only way to take on a bully is to face him down directly, to make him cower like the coward he is.

Clooney's movie is deliberately claustrophobic—almost all of it is set in the CBS studios, and though wives and children are alluded to, they're always safely off screen. It was a brave and necessary choice to shoot this picture in black and white, and the cinematography is hard-edged and very handsomely done; it also permitted Clooney to cast the only possible actor as Joseph McCarthy: McCarthy himself. The rest of the cast is a roster of seasoned professionals, all of whom turn in excellent work, and first and foremost is David Straitharn as Murrow. Straitharn conveys a straightforwardness, a decency, a forthright Americanness, the kind of thing that's been undone onscreen somewhat in recent decades by Method acting and the moral ambiguity of compromised heroes and anti-heroes—yet Straitharn's Murrow isn't a braggart and doesn't display cheap patriotism like a used car salesman festooning his lot with flags, but rather seems a true American patriot. (Perhaps the highest praise one can give to Straitharn is that he compares favorably with footage of Murrow himself.)

Clooney plays Fred Friendly, Murrow's producer and partner in crime; he's fine, but you can almost hear the money men talking, eager to be sure that if Clooney was going to direct, that he appear on the other side of the camera as well. Frank Langella is fierce and moral as William S. Paley, the founder of CBS; also very good but getting perhaps too much screen time are Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson, as a couple both working at CBS News but forced as a matter of corporate policy to keep their marriage a secret. Jeff Daniels is terrific as a Paley lackey, and deeply moving is Ray Wise, as a newsman victimized by McCarthy and his tactics.

The whole production team deserves high marks for their work—the suits appropriately crisp and droopy, the editing providing pace and rhythm and variation. One of the conceits of the film is that there's a recording studio next door to the Murrow studio, allowing Clooney to cut to Dianne Reeves singing songs from the great American songbook, and to give a plausible reason for the soundtrack. It can feel a little precious, though, and similarly, though you can see the idea behind bookending the story with a Murrow speech from 1958 in which he gives a Chayefsky-like sermon on the possible narcotizing effects of television, the movie works best when it's in the trenches with Murrow and the boys, not doing too much indicating. These are modest complaints, though, about a film that is relentlessly intelligent and scrupulously honest, characteristics that, all too often, are missing from most TV news broadcasts these days.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: A strong, crisp transfer, with deep moody blacks—each plume of smoke wafts around gorgeously, and the new footage meshes very well with the archival McCarthy material.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: It all sounds reasonably clean; Clooney favors overlapping dialogue, which is fine, but occasionally the dynamics on the mix let him down, and make some of the hushed tones difficult to make out.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by George Clooney and Grant Heslov
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Clooney is joined by Grant Heslov, the film's producer and Clooney's collaborator on the screenplay, for an informed, jokey commentary track. Of course Clooney is conscious of his movie star status, but he's not above having fun at his own expense—his favorite epithet for himself is "former Sexiest Man Alive, 1997." He's especially interesting discussing documentaries like Point of Order, which dealt with McCarthy's bullying tactics; he and Heslov discuss having worked out their professional shorthand on Unscripted and K Street, and describe what must have been a marvelous evening: the film's premiere at the New York Film Festival, hosted by Walter Cronkite, with, among the guests, Mike Wallace and the rest of the crew from 60 Minutes, Tom Brokaw, and Bill O'Reilly.

Aside from an original trailer, the only other extra is a making-of piece (15m:04s) featuring on-set interviews with, among others, Clooney, Straitharn, Heslov, old news vets who worked with Murrow, and the broadcaster's son, Casey Murrow. Most jarringly, this companion piece is shot in color, out of keeping with everything else on the disc. Well, until the colorized version of the film comes out, anyway.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Galvanizing and fascinating stuff, and a story particularly relevant in our days of Guantanamo Bay and the war on terror. George Clooney has made a film that's no mere exercise in vanity or shallow leftie politics, but rather one that pops the hood on one of the most crucial moments in the history of broadcast television. Murrow is gone and we shall not see his like again; but we sure could use him now.

 


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