"Good Night, and Good Luck" takes the quintessential '50s TV drama -- Ed Murrow vs. Joe McCarthy -- and recasts it as . . . a '50s TV drama. The stylizations are terrific, though young people may not get them: black-and-white cinematography, huge close-ups, lots of smoke under theatrical lighting, ominous dialogue. It's like "Playhouse 90" of the '00s. George Clooney, who directed (as well as co-wrote), seems to be channeling Sidney Lumet or John Frankenheimer as he retells the classic story of the crusading journalist who stood up to a braying political bully.
Clooney casts himself (with some extra poundage thrown on for realism) as Murrow's producer, Fred W. Friendly, and hardly registers. Neither do any of the other actors as CBS minions, even though they're played by such names as Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson. Only two people register, David Strathairn as Murrow and Joe McCarthy as Joe McCarthy. (The red-baiting senator from Wisconsin is shown in archival footage, as opposed to being performed by an actor. It's an effective method for chronicling the man's charisma and recklessness.)
So the movie really stands or falls on Strathairn's Murrow, which is to say, pretty much, that it stands. His hair slicked back, an ever-present cancer stick in his fingertips glowing and radiating gasses, his voice solemn as a biblical judgment, his demeanor as frozen as a portrait on a law firm's founders wall, Strathairn's Murrow dominates the movie with furious intelligence, guts, will and nobility. Those of us old enough to remember the real McCoy will probably not be as taken as those of you too young and thus without a fund of Murrow memories locked in your brain; still, it's a pleasure to sit through something this brisk and mesmerizing. Some may quibble with the politics or the narrow focus -- Clooney forgets all about the Cold War -- but within its own boundaries, the movie is powerfully convincing.
-- Stephen Hunter