Good Night, and Good Luck; Dir. George Clooney. 2005. 93mins. Clooney, David Strathairn, Frank Langella, Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Daniels.

Contemporary McCarthy revisionists like Ann Coulter are sure to label this effort as liberal agitprop, but Clooney’s trip down TV news memory lane actually serves to highlight one of the 4th Estate’s finest hours – the exposure of the Wisconsin Junior Senator’s commie-hunting excesses.  Alas, we also see the nascent conflict between network TV’s corporate interest and its public service obligation.  The year is 1953.  Edward R. Murrow, played soberly by David Strathairn, throws down the gauntlet by broadcasting a report, over military objections, on the redbaiting of Air Force lieutenant Milo Radulovich.  Naturally, this raises the hackles of CBS network brass, and penance comes in the form of a fluffy (and hilarious) on-screen tête-à-tête with Liberace.  Murrow and producer Fred Friendly (Clooney) must balance the twin aims of calling McCarthy’s bluffs on one hand and assuaging the fears of network chairman Bill Paley (Langella) on the other, and this dual tension guides the movie well, although there is never any doubt about the outcome of McCarthy’s crusade – as Paley points out, why risk offending advertisers when the senator will eventually self-destruct on his own?  The answer to this becomes clear when the film is seen in the context of today’s risk-averse, dissent-eschewing television news outfits.  Clooney’s own liberal leanings are presented without subtlety – journalists must not be stenographers to power.  Shot in black and white, through a noir haze of cigarette smoke, and interspersed with singer Dianne Reeves’ heartrending interpretations of jazz standards, Good Night, and Good Luck serves as a lucid window on the zeitgeist of an era that has much to teach us about our own.

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