Starring: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels, Tate Donovan, Ray Wise, Alex Borstein
Director: George Clooney
Summary: Broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow looks to bring down Senator Joseph McCarthy
Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Strathairn), Original Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography
The subject of TV’s power and potential to either educate or influence in dangerous ways was clearly a subject near and dear to George Clooney: he wanted to do a live TV broadcast version of Network around the same time (he didn’t because according to him, the younger audience he showed the original to failed to recognize it as satire). What he did do was this film, which doesn’t tackle the subject as effectively as Network, but still an admirable effort nonetheless. The movie is focused and keeps a small feel, detailing how Edward R. Murrow (expertly played by Strathairn) helped put some of the final nails in Joseph McCarthy’s coffin and how even in the infant days of TV, perceived “bias” in the media and corporate interests influencing content were already issues. It also gives a proper context that some other films would have overlook: Murrow correctly states that McCarthy “did not create this situation of fear, he merely exploited it” (meaning that he was just the most obvious face of a much bigger problem, which is true), and the focus is on how unconstitutional McCarthy’s methods were rather than the issue of Communism itself being good or bad or even whether McCarthy was right or wrong about Communists infiltrating the government and media (which to an extent, they did). Finally, it harkens back to a now sadly bygone era where you had nationally trusted journalists with credibility across the whole general public and spoke with a remarkable clarity and eloquence-someone who regardless of partisanship, could potentially change your mind about an issue or at least have you look at it in a new way.
There are a number of good aesthetic decisions made here as well, like making the film in black and white, which not only harkened back to the era of TV depicted, but also allowed them to depict McCarthy entirely with actual archive footage so that the film’s portrayal of the man himself could not possibly be considered inaccurate or hyperbole. Overall, while other films have tackled these themes better (such as Network and The Insider), it’s a solid look at how different and how much the same our relationship with the media has been since the advent of TV.