"I played Batman... with Robin. And Mr Freeze - who is now the Governor, Governor Freeze. But I did kick his arse." That's the former Sexiest Man Alive George Clooney, on his exceptional two-hander chat-track with co-writer/producer Grant Heslov. And from latex, big-nippled bat all-in-ones to the pristine newsroom of '50s CBS, Gorgeous is still in the business of kicking daft Republican arse. This time, that of Senator Joe McCarthy.
Released earlier this year as a double-header of sorts with the equally politically-charged Syriana, Good Night, And Good Luck is a well-judged and well-timed Clooney lament about the state of television journalism in a trying age, replete with soundbites that are probably being aired on dozens of networks as you read. Shot in black and white, Clooney and DoP Robert Elswit transport us into the claustrophobic world of cutting edge TV journalism. It's where newshounds gather early in the morning, armed with snippets of news from nationwide cuttings, cigarette smoke gathering in the desk lamps, starched shirts shimmering. They're neat and tidy, hair side-parted... serene, yet potent.
And where there's smoke, there'll be fire - the CBS crew, led by newsreader Ed Murrow (David Strathairn) and co-producer Fred Friendly (Clooney) reacting to the increasingly insidious communist witch-hunts by McCarthy. No, they say, Milo Radulovich shouldn't be struck from the airforce because his dad subscribed to a Serbian newspaper. And, no, timid Annie Lee Moss probably isn't a spy. McCarthy may believe everyone's got Reds under their beds but, despite difficulties with sponsors, bosses and the army, the See It Now crew decide to play David to the government Goliath. McCarthy was wrong and right-thinking people must act.
With real shots of Murrow appearing on the film set's televisions, the shot-for-shot, word-for-word, face-for-face Xeroxing is evident (a veracity underlined by a 15-minute doc featuring people involved in the original programme). And while diversions into the forbidden relationship between Robert Downey Jr and Patricia Clarkson and the plight of "lesser" newsreader Don Hollenbeck mar the newsroom claustrophobia, Good Night, And Good Luck remains an enthralling piece of work. "This country panics and does dumb things," says Clooney over extended footage of Moss' trial, where McCarthyist methods were damned as illegal. "Burning witches, rounding up the Japanese after World War Two and having congressional hearings... but our constitution always wins through." Guantanamo? Iraq? Afghanistan? The Patriot Act? Here's hoping.