Low-key drama about crusading television journalist Edward R. Murrow, who in 1954 decided (with the producer and staff of his proto-60 Minutes news program See It Now) to confront bullying Communist witch-hunting senator Joseph McCarthy.
It's interesting that this film was released at the same time as Bennett Miller's Capote. Though on the surface the two stories have nothing in common, in tone the films are very similar: Both are flawless in capturing period detail. Both are biopics about notable mid-century figures whose legacies are somewhat neglected today. Both isolate their biographies around a key moment in their subjects' professional lives. Both are absent histrionics or overdramatization in deference to authenticity. Both are humble, slow-moving pictures. Both are good.
Stylistically, Good Night, and Good Luck one-ups Capote with director/cowriter/costar George Clooney's decision to shoot his film in black and white, and entirely on soundstages. His claustrophobic staging makes Good Night feel almost like a 1950s TV drama – something that Playhouse 90 might have produced, if it had sleeker production values. (In fact, while the camerawork is fluid, this story could be easily adapted to live theatre.) The only downside to this is that the film's small scale emphasizes the "historical footnote" nature of the events themselves. This isn't a stand-up-and-cheer populist drama but a sober reenactment of a tense period experienced by a small group of people during the early days of TV.
Still and all, Murrow – eerily embodied by the great David Straithairn – comes off as nothing less than an American hero. Presumably all of Straithairn's on-air speeches are Murrow's own words. These are gripping speeches, powerful and chilling, and Straithairn delivers them with a distinguished intensity. Go see this movie just to hear them.
As for Clooney's direction, I was impressed. Watching his debut feature Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, I was surprised by his mature visual sense, but I remained skeptical, as there are more Hollywood movie stars who give up after directing one film than you can shake a stick at. It's good to see that Clooney is dedicated to working behind the camera, as he shows genuine talent as a director. Good Night serves as a sort of counterpoint to Confessions. Both films dig into the behind-the-scenes world of television, with the protagonist of Confessions, Chuck Barris, representing TV at its worst (developing The Dating Game and The Gong Show, among others), and Good Night's Murrow showing how powerful the medium could be. The history of television seems to fascinate Clooney, and these two features serve his fascination well.