McCarthy addressing reporters in 1952 (Courtesy of LA Times).
The Webb Schools

Review: ‘Good Night and Good Luck’ — The film that accurately captures the era of McCarthyism

In the age of colored movies, “Good Night and Good Luck” sets itself apart with classic black and white cinematography and pre-billionaire “Iron Man” (the latter was an especially enticing feature for me). Along with these elements, Director George Clooney uses his storytelling to excite and keep viewers tense as the movie follows Edward R. Murrow, a broadcast journalist.

Murrow and his colleagues decided to target Senator Joseph McCarthy for accusing citizens of communism without evidence. Director Clooney depicts their lives as they crusaded against McCarthy, offering a realistic depiction of the social tensions during the Cold War. 

The atmosphere Clooney creates through his cinematography and musical decisions draw and keep the attention of viewers like me.  

Distrust characterized the domestic front of the Cold War. And “Good Night and Good Luck” does a good job displaying that distrust.

For example, when Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly, asked the military officials for their evidence against Milo Radulovich, the generals adamantly rejected their questions in a long tense scene. Furthermore, one of Murrow’s team members also received evidence connecting Murrow to communism. And finally, Murrow’s longtime friend, Don Hollenbeck committed suicide due to communist accusations. 

These scenes display the secrecy and severity surrounding McCarthy’s witchhunt; the government wouldn’t show indicting evidence, others began targeting Murrow, and accusations of communism led to suicide. These impacts of McCarthyism aren’t works of fiction, and Clooney’s choices and portrayal of each of these scenes make the emotions hit home for viewers.

His choice of black and white cinematography adds a somber mood that brings the scene of Murrow mourning Hollenbeck together. Furthermore, his lack of music ensures a serious tone and focus on the emotions of the characters.

As a viewer, I felt in the moment without the music, and the movie helped me understand the tense atmosphere better than any words could help.

“Good Night and Good Luck” also shows the social and political pressure put on minorities.

For example, the government offered Air Force Officer Milo Radulovich only two options; to turn on his family and denounce his father and sister as communists or lose his job. The government reasoned that since the Radulovich family came from Yugoslavia, they must be communists.

This faulty logic captures the racial tensions that existed during the time. This all came together for me when I read Paul Robeson’s testimony. 

The line that has stuck with me was when the Chairman said: “We are trying to make it easier to get rid of your kind.”

These attitudes shared by high-ranking government officials were concerning and I saw these troublesome attitudes too in “Good Night and Good Luck.” And Clooney’s cinematography showed these perspectives authentically. By using historical clips of testimonies of Radulovich and Annie Lee Rose, another victim of McCarthyism, we could see the trends and clear bias of the officials questioning and accusing them.

Overall, I really enjoyed the film because of its black and white scenes. It was a great break from the color-packed, explosive Michael Bay films I’ve been rewatching to relive my childhood.  And the music by Dianne Reeves kept me grounded in the 1900s as opposed to the bass-thumping EDM we see in some films today.