Apart from a few notable missteps (Batman and Robin, anyone?), most of the films George Clooney's been involved with have been interesting. And this, his sophomore directorial effort, is more than just interesting. It's exceptional.
Shot in mood enhancing black and white and running a lean 90 minutes, Good Night, and Good Luck tells the story of the conflict between CBS TV journalist Edward Murrow (David Strathairn) and anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy (himself, from archive footage). When the film begins, McCarthy is in the middle of a witch hunt to weed out so called Communists using questionable methods and little to no evidence. Murrow and his colleague Fred Friendly (George Clooney) decide not to remain silent on the issue and launch scathing attacks on McCarthy and his unjustified methods via their TV programme "See It Now". As a result they are forced to deal with internal pressure from CBS management against airing such controversial programmes.
The film is set almost entirely within the offices of CBS and focuses on the team working on the "See It Now" programme. It frequently splices in archive footage from the era which further establishes the setting and enhances the atmosphere. The focus of the script is on how Murrow and Friendly set out to attack McCarthy, and on the consequences of their actions. Most memorable are the recreations of Murrow's broadcasts using his powerful and persuasive words. There's not much focus on character development as such, but then that's not what the film is about. We're given enough information on the people involved for the story being told. Another notable stylistic choice in the film is the lack of background music (there are a few musical interlude-like sequences however) - the ambient sounds of the studio are instead used to immerse the viewer in the setting.
In addition to the primary theme of people standing up and speaking out against wrongdoing even when doing so may entail unpleasant consequences, the film also touches on the responsibility of television broadcasting. It is bookended by a ceremony honouring Murrow's work, where he cautions that television is slipping into a realm of pure entertainment and is in danger of not being used effectively as a tool for informing.
There are also two subplots in the film, one relating to a married couple working on the show who have to keep their marriage secret because of company policy, and another about an anchorman who has difficulty dealing with criticism from a newspaper writer. These are only mildly interesting and the only thing I would cite as flaws, but they do add a human element to a story that focuses mostly on ideals.
The film is well written and directed - it gets straight to the point and is tense and rousing. The sense of time and place is perfect, and the performances from the impressive cast are all stellar. David Strathairn in particular is fantastic as Murrow; he imbues the character with intelligence, stoicism, and wit. His work on the broadcast scenes in particular are incredibly compelling (I have no idea how close they are to the actual broadcasts).
There has apparently been some criticism of the film (according to Wikipedia at any rate) regarding the extent of the pressure Murrow and Friendly faced against airing the controversial shows, and regarding the impact the shows had in McCarthy's eventual downfall. Even if that is true, I'm more than happy to let it slide as artistic license, because as a call to speak out against injustice and fear mongering, and as a reminder that the TV media can use their considerable power to inform and educate as well as to entertain, Good Night, and Good Luck is an unmitigated success.
I'll wrap this up with some choice words from Murrow's most famous broadcast, which are representative of the ideals of the film:
His [McCarthy's] primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.