I grew up in the 1970s, and lived with my grandparents for most of my formative years. And I remember I loved to hear their stories of the "olden days" and how it used to be, when men were men, an ice cream cone only cost a dime, and you could still believe everything you heard on the nightly news. Yet as a kid I didn't full get what they meant, because I had yet to develop any cynicism, and still believed without question everything that came out the mouth of anyone over the age of, oh, 18 years old. Which leads me to wonder how the kids of today might react to a movie like 'Good Night, and Good Luck' and its reverential treatment of a bygone era, when journalists actually cared about things like truth and integrity, and weren't just wanna-be actors being paid to spiel the latest studio-funded PR blurbs on "Access Hollywood." I wonder if kids today even realize there is a difference between genuine news and infotainment?
In the early 1950's, the threat of Communism sent a collective shiver of paranoia throughout the United States. And no political figure exploited those fears more than Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. His federal hearings (aka witchhunts) of "known" communists throughout all levels of the government and the entertainment industry destroyed countless lives and careers, largely through intimidation and baseless accusation. It was only until CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow and seven other members of his network team decided to take a stand and challenge McCarthy that he would be exposed as the phantom fearmonger history has proven him to be. The personal toll for Murrow would be extraordinary, but by standing firm in his convictions he would come to personify a journalistic ethos that remains as closely associated with truth, justice and the American way as Superman.
George Clooney's 'Good Night, and Good Luck' is a heartfelt work, a low-budget, independently-produced passion project that Clooney nurtured over many years and through much adversity. So I almost feel guilty for saying that I found it to be a film easier to admire than warm to. Though impeccably mounted (its production, location and costume design all the more impressive given its limited budget), it is oddly cold. Suffering many of the maladies that often plague historical pics, it is by design largely driven by plot rather than character. Similar to 'All the Presidents Men,' Clooney deftly holds our attention by sticking to the facts of what happened, what people said and how our American ideals were ultimately shaped by the efforts of Murrow. Yet I was not so much engaged by the emotional drama the characters were experiencing as in awe of what they accomplished. Also slightly dulling the film's effectiveness is the casting of major stars (and friends of Clooney) in supporting parts. Though David Strathairn won a much-deserved (and long overdue) Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Murrow, his presence is one of the few that doesn't distract. ("Look, it's Robert Downey, Jr.! Frank Langella! Patricia Clarkson! That guy from 'Dumb & Dumber!") However beautifully conceived, constructed and performed, 'Good Night, and Good Luck' is a somewhat austere film, as much a nostalgia-drenched Hollywood paean to a lost era as a historical docudrama.
Yet I would not hesitate for a second to recommend the film, as it is well worth seeing, perhaps even essential viewing. Regardless of your political affiliation, Murrow's accomplishments and impact on American cultural is irrefutable, and his story remains fascinating, illuminating and prescient. It is hard to imagine a historical period in our nation's history that is more relevant today than the McCarthy era. In this day and age when "reality TV" is indistinguishable from truth, profit-driven conglomerates own major news networks and our government uses fear, not facts, to push us into war, 'Good Night, and Good Luck' is more than a reminder of one of the darkest moments in American history, but a chilling prediction of where we could be headed once again. Maybe 'Good Night, and Good Luck' is indeed the type of film you feel you should see rather than want to see, but you still should see it nonetheless.
I was quite excited to finally get to see 'Good Night, and Good Luck' on Blu-ray, because it is the first entirely black and white film to make its debut on a high-def format. And I wasn't disappointed. Just about every aspect of this 1080p transfer is incredibly impressive, and I would go so far as to say it is the best presentation I've yet seen on Blu-ray.
What I found most immediately striking about the image is how three-dimensional it appears. The level of depth and detail is simply terrific. Blacks are so pure, deep and clean, and contrast smooth and consistent across the entire grayscale, that it is like looking at a picture-perfect photographic print, not a film image. Aside from some of the archival footage used in the film (though even that looks outstanding), the source print is also extraordinarily clean and free of even a single blemish -- it doesn't get much more slick than this. But even more surprising is that there is no apparent film grain visible, or it is so slight you have to press your nose up to the screen to glimpse it. Now, I know film grain is purposeful and I certainly don't believe that a transfer needs to have all its grain removed by modern digital processes to be "perfect." But I just expected that 'Good Night, and Good Luck' would be shot with that intentionally grainy look to make it feel more "real" or "cinema verite"-like, and boy, was I was wrong. This is without a doubt the smoothest black and white image I've ever seen on home video.
Lastly, I was also quite impressed -- for the first time on Blu-ray, I might add -- by the lack of compression artifacts. Granted, I reviewed this title using my Samsung player's 1080p out, but I also switched back and forth to 1080i (both HDMI and component) just to compare, and even using the analog outs I noticed nary a bit of pixelization or edginess. And this is some tough source material to get right -- David Strathairn often wears pattern suits with thin, stark stripes, yet I noticed no stairstepping or "jaggies." How very impressive, especially for a title using the much-lambasted MPEG2 compression codec. I don't know if the lack of color information gives the codec a boost or what, but I just can not find any real fault with this presentation. Notch up the first four-star transfer for Blu-ray.
While I loved the transfer, I found the included Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track merely average at best. Quite frankly, the sound design of 'Good Night, and Good Luck' is so dull and front-heavy it might as well be 2-channel stereo, not surround. (Note that although the HD DVD release of 'Good Night, and Good Luck' presents the film in Dolby Digital-Plus, the Blu-ray spec also does not require the use of the format except when a track goes beyond 5.1 channels, i.e., 6.1 or 7.1 soundtracks. The actual bitrate of the Dolby Digital track on this Blu-ray version is thus identical to the Dolby Digital-Plus track on the HD DVD, approximately 640kbps.)
Certainly, from a technical standpoint 'Good Night, and Good Luck' sounds perfectly fine. The film is driven almost entirely by dialogue, which is reproduced with great clarity and intelligibility. Even the archival footage has been nicely cleaned up, with very warm midrange and an impressive lack of shrillness to even the highest frequencies. Low bass is a bit less pronounced, but given the almost complete lack of a musical score and only a sparse use of sound effects, your just not going to get a lot of rumbling out of your subwoofer with this kind of soundtrack. Admittedly, it is unfair of me to expect a bunch of sounds whizzing around my head in a movie of this type, but in terms of envelopment and atmosphere there just isn't much going on in 'Good Night, and Good Luck'
Even on standard DVD there weren't many extras on 'Good Night, and Good Luck.' Perhaps George Clooney thought history and his film should just speak for themselves? In any case, Warner has ported over all of the same supplements as the previous DVD, but just don't expect a fully-loaded special edition.
First up and the disc's highlight is the screen-specific audio commentary with Clooney and producer Grant Heslov. What's funny and surprising about this track is that it seems like it was recorded before the film even hit theaters, and began to win considerable critical and awards recognition. Clooney frequent succumbs to self-depreciating humor, lamenting that "five people are going to see this movie," which in hindsight is hard to fathom. ('Good Night, and Good Luck' practically had "Oscar!" stamped on its forehead before it even went before the cameras.) Aside from Clooney's self-doubt, he and Heslov do a pretty good job of giving us the skinny on the project's development and production, although as is typical with these type of passion projects, Clooney spends a bit too much time thanking his cast and fellow filmmakers rather than getting down to the nitty gritty we really want to hear.
The only other major extra is the 15-minute "Companion Piece" featurette, which is subtitled "Learn More About the Inspiration Behind 'Good Night, and Good Luck.'" Though the EPK interviews with Clooney and the cast are totally formulaic, the segment is elevated by the inclusion of new interviews with many of the surviving family and friends of the real-life news team behind Murrow's triumph. Their stories, however brief, are poignant and fascinating. I just wish there was more of such remembrances -- this should really be a full-blown doc, not just a short snapshot. (By the way, I also have a complaint for Warner about the formatting of this featurette. It's presented in 480i, which is fine, but for some reason Warner did not format this for 16x9 monitors -- the 4:3 aspect of the featurette is not presented pillarboxed as is standard, but stretched out, so everyone looks too fat. Seeing as how Blu-ray is a HD format, should this stuff be formatted properly? Just a thought.)
Rounding out the package is the film's theatrical trailer presented in full 1080p video.
'Good Night, and Good Luck' is an impeccably conceived and produced film. I found it a bit cold, however easy it is to admire. But there is no doubt in my mind about this Blu-ray release -- the transfer is superb (the best I've seen on the format so far), even if the soundtrack is a bit dull and the extras undernourished. Still, it is great to finally be able to rave about a Blu-ray transfer, so if you are an early adopter of the format and interested in picking this one up, I can't give you any reason for pause.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.