Good Night, and Good Luck – A George Clooney Retrospective

The Oscar-nominated Good Night, and Good Luck stands out as being the best film that George Clooney has directed to date.

Clooney’s second film sees the actor-filmmaker back in the TV world. His second outing focuses not on game shows but on the world of news. This is a world that the filmmaker is all too familiar with as his father, Nick Clooney, was a TV journalist and anchorman for many years. The elder Clooney had run for Congress one year earlier, losing to Geoff Davis in KY-4. But I digress. What amazes me is that they made the film on a $7 million budget with Clooney taking a pay cut for his services across the board.

“I thought it was a good time to raise the idea of using fear to stifle political debate,” Clooney remarked during a 2005 NYFF press conference.

Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov have a bigger responsibility when it comes to authenticity. After all, how many people will end up using this film as an introduction to the notorious Sen. Joseph McCarthy? The 1950s were a very different time to be living in America. It wasn’t just the Cold War but McCarthyism was targeting Americans in every which direction. Enter Ed Murrow (David Strathairn) and using his platform to go directly after McCarthy. Did any other broadcaster dare to speak out in the way that Murrow did on television? I don’t know but the film focuses primarily on the efforts of Murrow and the CBS News team.

Television was still relatively new in 1953. Not many American families owned a set but more would be doing so throughout the decade. It’s under this setting, however, that a journalist stood up to a sitting U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. Murrow and Fred Friendly (George Clooney) mapped out their strategy in confronting McCarthy. All while people did their job in the CBS newsroom. News worked very differently in the 1950s than the way it works today. But at the end of the day, journalists still have a responsibility. What should this responsibility be when a sitting senator decides to accuse people of being a communist? Murrow had the right idea by using his platform and holding McCarthy accountable for his actions.

The film starts with A Salute to Edward R. Murrow in 1958 before flashing back five years earlier to 1953. This is when Murrow and Friendly decided to push back against the military for convicting Milo Radulovich, His crime? Being the son and brother of alleged communist sympathizers. Joseph Wershba (Robert Downey Jr.) performs the interview for CBS, which ends up being criticized by director Sig Mickelson (Jeff Daniels) for not being balanced enough. Despite the military intervening, CBS airs the segment anyway. What happens next is a decision that would shape the country and maybe even change the role of journalism on TV: Murrow goes after McCarthy. News reports are mostly favorable but a journalist accuses Don Hollenbeck (Ray Wise) of being a communist.

McCarthy accepts Murrow’s invitation to appear on See It Now. Suffice it to say, this goes exactly as one might expect. The senator accused the newsman of being a communist–to which Murrow would respond in full force during his next show. To say that the tide was turning against McCarthy would not be an understatement. Furthermore, McCarthy himself is investigated by the Army but there’s no celebration in the newsroom as Hollenback killed himself. He was never able to recover from the accusations. Anyway, going after McCarthy was not without its own set of consequences, even as it was the right thing to do. CBS chief executive William Paley (Frank Langella) meets with Murrow and informs him that they’ve lost an advertiser. Not only would Murrow be doing five more shows but the slot moved from Tuesday to Sunday afternoon.

Aside from Clooney’s directing and Strathairn’s acting, two things really work to the film’s benefit. The first is releasing the film in black-and-white. It helps sell the film being a period piece. The second is that Clooney is right to use actual footage of McCarthy following a restoration to the footage. The film wouldn’t have the same power had they hired an actor for the role. It’s one of the decisions that really makes the film work as well as it does. That’s not to say that there isn’t some dramatic license as the film depicts the CBS offices and studios being in the same building–they weren’t.

I keep going back and forth as to whether or not this is the only masterpiece in Clooney’s filmography. The Ides of March comes extremely close and there’s a universe where that film picks up more than a single Oscar nomination. Anyway, I meant to rewatch the film for its 15th anniversary back in 2020 but didn’t get around to doing so. Unfortunately, I did not have on hand when the anniversary rolled around. As such, I just did a rewatch this week for the first time in many years. And no, it’s not lost on me for a minute that my viewing came three years and one day after the anniversary of an insurrection against American democracy. Not for a minute.

It’s interesting to watch the film now in what is an even more polarized climate than existed in 2005. Look out where the trust in news was just over 15 years ago. Think about where it is now and which networks, broadcasters, or journalists have no issue with cozying up to Donald Trump. I’d think that Murrow would have responded strongly during the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Maybe he’d be writing about the warnings of Trump and fascism much in the same way that Dan Rather is doing today, years after leaving the CBS News anchor desk.

The film earned six Oscar nominations but left with zero trophies. Clooney did not go home empty-handed as he won Best Supporting Actor for Syriana. That being said, I remember pushing for either Good Night, and Good Luck or Steven Spielberg’s Munich to win big that night. Put it this way: the two films were my 1 and 1A for 2005.

Good Night, and Good Luck is both a masterpiece and a reminder that journalists have a responsibility.

DIRECTOR: George Clooney
SCREENWRITERS: George Clooney & Grant Heslov
CAST: David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr., Frank Langella, Ray Wise, Robert John Burke, Reed Diamond, Tate Donovan, Grant Heslov, Tom McCarthy, Matt Ross, Rose Abdoo, Alex Borstein, Peter Jacobson, Robert Knepper, and Dianne Reeves

Warner Independent Pictures released Good Night, and Good Luck in theaters on October 7, 2005. Grade: 5/5

Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Buttondown.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

You Missed

Rocky: Ultimate Knockout Collection Arrives on 4K Ultra HD

Rocky: Ultimate Knockout Collection Arrives on 4K Ultra HD

Bob Newhart: A Legacy of Laughter Airs on July 22

Bob Newhart: A Legacy of Laughter Airs on July 22

Rabin In His Own Words: A Cinematic Autobiography

Rabin In His Own Words: A Cinematic Autobiography

Bob Newhart: Comedy Legend Dead at 94

Bob Newhart: Comedy Legend Dead at 94

Twisters Storms Its Way Into Theaters for a Thrilling Time

Twisters Storms Its Way Into Theaters for a Thrilling Time

Jac Collinsworth Joining Peacock’s Gold Zone During Paris Olympics

Jac Collinsworth Joining Peacock’s Gold Zone During Paris Olympics