With “Good Night, and Good Luck,” George Clooney proves once and for all he’s more than just a pretty face. With this film, his second as director, he shows himself to be smart, courageous, politically savvy — and a hell of a storyteller.

“Good Night, and Good Luck,” the retelling of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow’s showdown with Communist witch hunter Sen. Joe McCarthy in the early 1950s, is a suspenseful, entertaining, at times humorous history lesson and one that Clooney knew would be a tough sell.

For one thing, it’s in black and white to give it the look of the times. For another, only 20 percent of test audiences had even heard of Murrow and 40 percent of McCarthy — or McCarthyism.

But Clooney has brilliantly and subtly brought it all into the 21st century, into the world of 9/11, the Patriot Act and George W. Bush.

“I thought it was a good time to raise the idea of using fear to stifle political debate,” Clooney said at the New York Film Festival this month. “This administration, because of 9/11, got a pass on tough questions.” Ask anything challenging about the 2001 terrorist attacks or the war in Iraq and “somehow you were unpatriotic,” Clooney told The Associated Press.

“That’s now gone away a little bit. Not just because of the growing unpopularity of the war, but also because as a country we always in time of fear seem to overreact a little bit. You know, Pearl Harbor happens and we round up all the Japanese-Americans and put them in internment camps. We panic … and then we come to our senses.”

Joe McCarthy was the Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly of his day, although he had the power of the Senate behind him. Bloated and bombastic all, they rely on lies, distortions and scare tactics to make a name for themselves. And they have all imploded in one way or another, but only when somebody has the courage to expose them.

With McCarthy, that someone was Ed Murrow. He wasn’t the first by any means, but he had the audience that no one else did. Murrow’s campaign against McCarthy began when he heard about an Air Force lieutenant from Michigan who was thrown out of the service because his father and sister supposedly read “radical” newspapers. There was no trial and the lieutenant was not allowed to know the charges against him. Sound familiar?

Murrow believed that “we must not allow fear to erode our civil liberties,” Clooney said in an interview. “And that seems to have been very prescient.”

The Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger calls “Good Night, and Good Luck” a “masterpiece” and the audience I was in burst into appreciative applause at the end. So whether you lived through McCarthyism or you care about your rights in 2005 — or you just love a good movie — go see “Good Night, and Good Luck.”