Warner Independent Pictures, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck, a product of George Clooney’s confident direction and his stunning use of black-and-white photography, invokes a time in which Sen. Joseph McCarthy bullied fearful citizens into silence. It is a period in U.S. history that many astute commentators, Clooney among them, have compared to our own. However the power of "Good Night, and Good Luck" comes less from similarities than differences – less from its portrayal of a resonant political era than from its nostalgic invocation of a very different journalistic time.

“Good night, and good luck” was the on-air sign-off of Edward R. Murrow, one of the true icons of 20th-century American journalism. First achieving fame with his war reporting from Britain during the Blitz (his signature opening, “This is London,” electrified audiences), Murrow, by the early 1950s, had made the jump to the new medium of television. While Murrow is best remembered for his work on CBS’s See It Now, including TV documentaries and his groundbreaking investigative reporting on political affairs, the title phrase, “Good night, and good luck” slyly recalls Murrow’s second gig, his pop-culture interview program Person-to-Person. It was the income-generating “interviews” with Liberace and Rin Tin Tin on Person-to-Person, Clooney implies, that paid Murrow’s bills and ultimately kept him employed by CBS, as See It Now began to train its journalistic sights on the McCarthy slime machine.

Clooney has received much-deserved praise for not hiring an actor to portray McCarthy but rather showing him only through old stock footage. It is less the evil of McCarthy that comes across this way than his utter banality. McCarthy died in 1957 of acute hepatitis, and as the junior senator from Wisconsin takes to the air to denounce Murrow, theatergoers can almost hear him slurring his words.

Despite its infamously controversial subject matter, Good Night, and Good Luck, is not always easy to watch. Much like the era it recalls, the film is drawn out, serious, and somewhat didactic. On the other hand, the directing is superb and David Strathairn turns in a career-defining performance as Murrow.

Clooney has talked up the film’s political resonance in interviews with various press outlets. Critiques from Slate’s Jack Schaeffer and Caryn James of the New York Times have taken the director to task for oversimplifying and over-dramatizing a complex historical period in this “liberal puff-piece.”

Most jarring, however, is the film’s attention to the transformation of the news media in the 50 years since “Murrow’s boys” stalked the small screen. The days when a single newscaster, from a major network could “take on” a national political figure are long gone. Murrow’s legacy today, it seems, stems less from See It Now than from his celebrity interviews.