Something of a corker, this – and a leap way beyond Clooney's overpraised directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. That was from an old Charlie Kaufman script – this one is Clooney's own work, in collaboration with Grant Heslov. If they win the Oscar for it, nobody should cry foul: uses a nice, simple, tight structure to relate a key early-50s period in the life of Ed Murrow, "patron saint of US television news". Murrow dared to take on Senator Joe McCarthy when the latter was in the midst of his anti-Communist "witch hunting", a course of action which didn't endear him to his superiors at CBS – most notably studio boss William Paley.
Frank Langella is terrific in his brief appearance as Paley; Strathairn close to phenomenal as Murrow; Ray Wise, as Murrow's tormented "pinko" colleague, nearly manages to steal the picture – though his performance, very much the emotional heart of the piece, has been strangely overlooked by critics and awards-bodies so far. Clooney takes a back seat as Murrow's genial, well-named producer Fred Friendly, but is very much the star of the show in terms of the material he provides for Strathairn and company.
Admirably Economic, brisk, black-and-white film is informally divided into sections, separated by in-studio live renditions of contemporary hit songs (apparently all originally recorded by Clooney's aunt Rosemary, which if true is a typically neat, deft touch). Surprising amount of humour in what is fundamentally a stringent, serious work about pressingly topical themes – Strathairn expertly milks laughs during his interview "at home" with Liberace (conducted with Murrow in the studio via an outside-broadcast link).
But this wonderful sequence isn't just comic relief: it sets up Clooney's technique of interpolating actual footage from the period, most notably that of McCarthy himself at Senate hearings and when appearing on Murrow's programme to rebut the allegations placed against him. There's been some tut-tutting that this approach means Clooney has somehow not really "directed" the film as such, merely assembled old clips and strung a framing device around them. That's nonsense: Good Night, and Good Luck is as "directed" as any film you'll see this year, and better directed than all but a tiny handful.
25th January, 2005
GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK. : [8/10] : USA (US/Fr/Jap/UK) 2005 : George CLOONEY : 93 mins (BBFC timing)
seen at Vue cinema, Leicester Square, London (UK), 19th January 2006 – press show