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Heroes of the Zeroes: Good Night, and Good Luck

by on May 3, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Good Night, and Good Luck”
Rated PG
2005

Today’s TV news isn’t a 24-7 blur of white noise, partisan blowhards and vapid puff pieces. It’s only 23-7.

Edward R. Murrow didn’t live to see it, but the CBS newsman foretold it in 1958, warning that TV’s use only to distract, delude, amuse or insulate — and not also illuminate or inspire — would be its undoing.

Shot in ravishing black-and-white, George Clooney’s 2005 “Good Night, and Good Luck” chronicled Murrow’s (David Strathairn) commentaries about Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s destructive anti-Communist crusade.

But “Good Night” refused to simplify Murrow as a conquering hero or use McCarthy’s censure as a rallying cry. Murrow worked through plenty of trepidation, rising above personal attacks, political bluster and corporate pressure to persuade viewers that lines had been crossed. And while he afflicted the comfortable, he couldn’t comfort the afflicted, like colleague Don Hollenbeck — devastatingly destroyed in the courts of public and self-opinion.

For its serious subject matter, Clooney and Grant Heslov’s screenplay isn’t without time-capsule chuckles, silken song breaks from Dianne Reeves, snappy newsroom banter or nick-of-time levity. And Robert Elswit’s Oscar-nominated cinematography savors the era’s ducktails, pomades and smoke. (It shares subject matter, period-detail beauty and Frank Langella with the also-great “Frost/Nixon.”)

Untethered to any post-TV era, though, is a conclusion that America gets too comfortable with the mental inactivity it enables. Without responsible information, television is “merely wires and lights in a box.” The titular signoff begins as Murrow’s trademark and ends as a challenge to a medium — one too often unmet today.

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