A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this drama includes some mild language and nearly non-stop smoking (Murrow's addiction is well known). The notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy appears in news footage, condemning people as "communists" in the HUAC hearings and on television, based on spurious or no evidence. A husband and wife employed by CBS must hide the fact of their marriage because it's against company policy. Coworkers drink at a bar after work. During Murrow's interview with Liberace, the famously gay pianist talks about wanting to find a good woman, something of an inside joke. A journalist is so unnerved by accusations that he's a communist that he kills himself (off screen, but other characters react to the news).
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What's the story?
GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK is George Clooney's admiring portrait of Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn). Murrow first appears in 1958 accepting an award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for his remarkable work as a journalist, then cuts back to 1953, just as Murrow's measured, sustained response to McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee is getting underway. Murrow and See It Now producer Fred Friendly (Clooney) decide to air a story on a Navy pilot dismissed following false accusations by McCarthy that he's a security risk. The show, and Murrow's introduction and closing thoughts, catch McCarthy's attention, and CBS president William Paley (Frank Langella) calls him into his office and arranges a punishment: fewer documentary/opinion broadcasts and more episodes of Person to Person, the mostly celebrity interview program that Murrow detested. The film takes up a specific moment in Murrow's career -- his public battle with Senator Joseph McCarthy -- it sets up an opposition between righteousness and fear. But it also shows the political and cultural contexts for this opposition.
Is it any good?
Elegant, deft, focused, and shot in exquisite black and white, the film is partly reverential, partly probing. As Murrow reads from his award acceptance speech, you realize that this work is not only investigative or even resistant to the powers that be, but gorgeously written. If you come away from Good Night and Good Luck with nothing else, you will come away with renewed appreciation for luminous prose.
Selected images from the HUAC hearings are often riveting, as when McCarthy accuses Annie Lee Moss of being a communist, a charge so patently baseless that a committee member finally demanded that McCarthy and lawyer Roy Cohn produce proof of the charges. More artificial and so more provocative are inserts of jazz singer Dianne Reeves; apparently recording in a CBS studio some standards that comment on the action. While artists -- and here, no coincidence, a black woman artist -- might have and even pronounce insight into the bluesy world we all inhabit, the folks in the upper floor offices don't hear it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the basic moral and political issues the film raises. What is the news media's role with regard to government corruption, error, and cover-up? How does the film incorporate images of black women -- one in footage being grilled by McCarthy, and another singing in a CBS recording studio -- as comments on the abuse of power by white authorities?
- In theaters: October 7, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: March 14, 2006
- Cast: David Strathairn, Jeff Daniels, Patricia Clarkson
- Director: George Clooney
- Studio: Warner Independent
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild thematic elements and brief language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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