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Film review: Film puts journalism in spotlight

Fascinating 'Good Night' has much to say about media's role

George Clooney and David Strathairn in "Good Night, and Good Luck."
George Clooney and David Strathairn in "Good Night, and Good Luck."
Warner Independent Pictures

GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK. — *** 1/2 — David Strathairn, George Clooney; in black and white; rated PG (profanity, racial epithets); see Page W2 for theaters.

"Good Night, and Good Luck" is the kind of film that should be seen by as many people as possible — and for reasons beyond the obvious technical accomplishments and entertainment value.

This fact-based drama has much to say about the current state of journalism — especially television journalism — and the obligation of news media to challenge and criticize governmental actions.

However, the film is not as dry as that probably makes it sound. Though it's fascinating and observant, there are also moments of dry humor. Consequently, this is probably the best feature film made about journalism since 1976's "All the President's Men."

The title, "Good Night, and Good Luck" refers to the sign-off line used by veteran newsman Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn), who was the voice and conscience of CBS News during the 1950s. Along with news producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote), Murrow had an on-air feud with Joseph McCarthy, the infamous Red Scare tactician who was serving in the U.S. Senate at the time.

That boiled over when CBS aired a story about a U.S. Air Force officer who had been kicked out of the service due to accusations about his family's supposed subversive activities.

According to the movie, Murrow and Friendly had to fight tooth and nail with network officials just to get the story on the air. But when they did, there wasn't nearly as much of a furor as expected. However, the two men did find themselves under investigation from McCarthy and his allies, who began spreading accusations about Murrow participating in questionable activities in his younger days.

The film does get a little sidetracked with a subplot about a too-sensitive-to-criticism TV anchorman (played by Ray Wise), as well as married co-workers (Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson) trying to cover up their relationship for professional reasons.

But the film feels authentic, thanks to the use of black-and-white photography and actual newsreel footage. It also has a somewhat jazzy feel, which is only reinforced by a few snippets of jazz musical numbers sung by Dianne Reeves.

And, of course, the performances are terrific. Veteran character actor Strathairn, a regular in John Sayles' movies, shines as Murrow. He pretty much nails his voice and mannerisms, though it's more than just a simple imitation. And in addition to his contributions behind the camera, the onscreen Clooney gets some of the better quips as Friendly. (He co-wrote the screenplay with Grant Heslov, who plays Don Hewitt.)

"Good Night, and Good Luck." is rated PG for scattered use of strong profanity and a couple of racial epithets. Running time: 93 minutes.