Both movies George Clooney has directed provide handy visual cues for the character of their TV personality protagonists: a garish, slapdash palette for Chuck Barris’s flamboyant insecurities in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and now the smoky black and white of Good Night, and Good Luck, designed to provoke yearnings for the understated class of a bygone era’s icon, Edward R. Murrow. His confrontations with Joe McCarthy on CBS’s See It Now are the subject of Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov’s veneration.
David Strathairn’s Murrow, prickly and elegant, is one of his better evocations of composure holding self-doubt in check; he’s made a career out of characters like this, but never with the success of such a visible project resting largely on his ability to do so. McCarthy plays himself, from archival footage — Clooney and Heslov have repeatedly and correctly stated that even the most accurate impersonation of the senator would look like caricature. McCarthy is only seen on television, as the movie is set almost entirely within the CBS studios and offices.
It’s there that the movie works best: there’s something inherently engrossing about the way people talk when they’re entirely at ease with each other, and this comes through especially in movies about work. It’s exhilarating to watch the See It Now team engaged in putting together their show, speaking the same language without needing to stop and explain themselves.
When Murrow goes on the air, Clooney isn’t subtle about his political agenda, slowly tracking in on Strathairn as he intones “we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” They’re Murrow’s words — the film uses his original copy — and from my seat in the choir, the sermon sounded great.
Opens October 14