Good Night and Good Luck, the second film directed by George Clooney, is about facing up to a bully. It's about that moment when you decide that enough is enough. You realize that daring to confront the bully means that he will go after you and you understand that it's really going to hurt.
George Clooney as Fred Friendly
Your friends try to talk you out of it. They're being bullied, too, but they care about you and don't want you to suffer. Of course, you have come to realize that bullies make everybody suffer, that they won't stop until somebody makes them stop and that you are the one that's going to do it.
And then you do.
The bully in this instance is Joe McCarthy, a political thug on a power trip. The person standing up to the bully is Edward R. Murrow, a highly-respected television reporter for CBS.
Don't come to the theater expected a sprawling, richly textured film like All the President's Men. At just 90 minutes, Good Night and Good Luck is a taut, focused look at one pivotal moment. The film is in black and white and it looks absolutely great. The sets and the costumes are convincing. And despite the presence of a number of familiar faces, the cast draws you immediately into the 1950s America setting. David Strathairn, fantastic as Murrow, leads a stellar roster that includes Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels and Ray Wise. Joe McCarthy appears as himself in perfectly integrated film clips.
I won't go into detail about the plot particulars. Either you know the history, in which case you don't need me to recount the events, or you are unfamiliar with the history, which means the film can work for you as a psychological thriller as well as a drama.
Suffice to say that Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House of Un-American Activities Committee were holding public hearings and hauling before them "suspicious" citizens, who were verbally pummeled at great length. Those citizens were expected to state that they were not communists or communist sympathizers and to provide the names of anyone they knew of that might be.
Those convinced that their political beliefs were nobody's business and that the hearings were un-American found themselves vilified by McCarthy. They often lost their jobs and became social pariahs, damned for their principles by the government.
I worry that the people who might get the most from the movie will never see it. They will be turned off because the film is in black and white, or they will assume that a political drama set in the '50s will be dry and dull. Or worse, screechy and self-satisfied.
I hope I'm wrong. Far from stodgy, the film is ripping good entertainment and, as best I can tell, it plays fair, presenting the drama without embellishment.
God knows the story is relevant. One of the prevailing themes of the current Iraqi war has been that anyone who does not support the Bush Administration is playing right into the hands of the terrorists. The Sept. 11 atrocities left us united as a nation, but that sweeping patriotism got hijacked by a group of bullies with an agenda and anyone who questioned that agenda was labeled un-American. Thankfully, more and more people are standing up to the current group of bullies and finding strength in their numbers.
What McCarthy did was more aggressive, of course, but the mindset is the same. Good Night and Good Luck is a small movie about a brave man who, with the support of some other brave citizens, dared to stand up for his beliefs. It is a work of patriotism.