(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Good Night and Good Luck (2005)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Edward R. Murrow brings down a tyrannical senator in the name of journalism and decent while capitalism ultimately ends Murrow’s career.
Why It’s on the List: George Clooney’s first time out as a director feels like a film out of time, a 1950s time piece that looks and feels like the movies of the decade. It’s in black and white. Everyone uses the cadence of people in this time. Clooney clearly put a lot of time to make this feel authentic. Part of what impresses me is how quaint the film feels. This is a smaller story, not one of Watergate’s magnitude or accusations of sexual harassment in the Catholic church, but it’s still important. This is about a journalist (and to be fair a group of producers) helping to bring down an awful senator. Clooney, using Murrow as his surrogate, also makes the argument that there aren’t always two equal sides to a story.
You cannot possibly talk about this movie without discussing David Strathairn, a character actor who has filled in the role of general, empty suit, disgraced White Sox pitcher or father figure. Here he gets the chance to excel in the lead role of Edward R. Murrow. He pretty much nails it. I’m not a fan of giving awards simply for doing impressions of real people, but Strathairn looks and sounds exactly like him to a scary degree.
One of the ballsiest decisions was to not cast anyone as Joseph McCarthy. They simply used the archive footage, but apparently certain people thought the “actor” was giving too big a performance. I think that only adds to the power of this film.
The movie does emphasize that McCarthy was brought down, but Murrow falls out of favor at CBS because he believed in journalism and the idea of television as a useful tool. As we all know after All the President’s Men, you have to follow the money, and in this case, when you follow the money, you realize the tension that will always exist between commerce and news.
I do have to point out some interesting casting choices, mostly with the benefit of hindsight. Jeff Daniels plays the director of CBS, and of course he went on to play the lead in The Newsroom, a show that had one good monologue and a lot of really bad episodes. Robert Downey Jr. plays a correspondent just three years before taking over the world as Iron Man. Thomas McCarthy, who played a fraud journalist in The Wire and directed a positive movie about journalism in Spotlight, is a side character and in the background.
I can’t help but feel this movie has been almost forgotten. I would consider this greatly underrated and hope it ends up on HBO Max at some point since it’s a Warner Bros. film.
*Edward R. Murrow smokes while on the air!
MVP and Best Performance: It’s Strathairn clearly, right down to capturing Murrow’s cadence.
Best Quote: “Good night, and good luck.” – Edward R. Murrow
Is there a sequel? No.