This brilliant tour de force is testimony that film making can still have quality and value in this country. It is a mesmerizing docu-drama, superbly written and acted, with multiple messages for a nation now facing its worst civil liberties crisis ever.

Like Arthur Miller’s justly iconic Crucible, this film cuts to the heart of the McCarthy Era. The Crucible does double-duty, illuminating both the repression of the 1950s and the horrors of the Salem witch trials, which it depicts with stunning impact and accuracy.

Good Night, and Good Luck takes on McCarthy directly, but also demands an in-depth examination of the role of the modern electronic media, just in its birth. It does the job plainly and directly, with no punches pulled and no cutesy trucks, cutting right to the heart of this most serious of matters.

In the lead role of Edward R. Murrow, David Straitharn portrays the ultimate old school journalist, a man who reeks of integrity, but must still find time to do the inevitable celebrity turn that pays the bills. A classic interspersing of his interview with the pianist Liberace provides brilliant balance to the rigors of Murrow’s journalistic discipline. Part of the film’s genius is that it uses actual footage. The screen practically screams for Murrow to open a frank discussion of issues of sexuality with the supremely swish pianist. But it was way too early for that…and way too over the edge for Murrow. Perhaps if he had lived to interview Elton John….

Otherwise, the stark realities of Murrow’s simple confrontation with McCarthy---and his own network bosses---more than fill the screen. The endless cigarette smoke and the unsparing black and white cinematography help keep things focussed: this is, above all, about civil liberties and the necessity that a free and courageous media be willing to fight for them. That Murrow had to face angry pressure from network executives, sponsors and the military merely to broadcast the facts about a sinister lunatic aiming to shut down free speech spoke volumes to the times.

But it also speaks to our peril today. Who in the major media is willing to stand up to the repressive psychopaths running today’s America? The nauseating horde of gutless, pandering bloviators that fill the silver screen is precisely what Murrow warns of in the film’s powerful concluding scene. Having lost his pulpit for exposing McCarthy’s dark side, Murrow warns that TV must be more than a box to merely entertain.

Unfortunately, TV has become even worse than he prophesized. In the Age of Bush, it is a totalitarian tool, selling illegal wars and dishonest hype alongside ecologically catastrophic materialism and endless hours of airheaded celebrity froth. Were Murrow to spend a few hours channel flipping today, he might well seek a stronger drug than nicotine.

Straitharn, who plays Murrow, should get an Oscar, if the Academy has the guts. But the real hero is George Clooney. He has brilliantly directed and co-written this film, and graces it with a congenial turn as Murrow’s legendary sidekick, Fred Friendly.

Clearly, it took a star with Clooney’s clout to get this film made in its simple, stark honesty. That it is both a critical and commercial success speaks of hope in this country. See it now.

Good Night, and Good Luck is currently playing in Columbus at the Gateway on campus.