Nightmares of TV’s Messy Adolescence


Though it may have been some kind of career-long desire for George Clooney, whose father was a Cincinnati and Lexington broadcaster through much of the mid-century, the return to the cultural stress of McCarthyism represented by Good Night, and Good Luck is aptly timed. If it functions only as a kind of mini-realist, moral-minded history lesson for today’s principle-free media circus and news victims, that alone would make it a landmark in new-millennium Hollywood. A meticulous if somewhat hermetic period piece shot in pearly, newsy black-and-white, Clooney’s sophomore directorial shot sticks closely to the details at hand: the slow step up to the plate performed by popular CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow (David Straithairn) in response to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s HUAC witch hunt, essentially constituting a sole voice crying out in a wilderness of shit-scared American journalism. The show’s production team does all of the reactive heavy lifting, including producer Fred Friendly (Clooney), and it’s the evocation of the era’s office spaces and studio bustle, tamped down but not quite doused by anti-Communist paranoia, that makes the movie bloom. The ensemble—including Patricia Clarkson, Robert Downey Jr., and Ray Wise as suicidal anchorman Don Hollenbeck—all find their moments in Clooney’s dense, all-business tumult, but the most amazing performance is by McCarthy, playing himself in the preserved video nightmares of television’s messy adolescence, and scanning as one part Nixon, one part Cheney, and one part insecure Lex Luthor, bawling and huffing his way to infamy. Succinct and unpretentious, the movie nevertheless masters a vast and chaotic social struggle, between ethical rectitude, private preservation, and the duties of media to support the citizenry, not, as Murrow says in a podium polemic, “to distract, delude, denude, and isolate us.” Extras include a Clooney–Grant Heslov commentary and a “companion piece” doc.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 4, 2006

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