Director: Jay Roach
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren
Duration: 240 mins
KRS Releasing Ltd
Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed screenwriters of the 1940s. A popular figure among his peers, he was renowned not only for his exceptional writing but for his outspoken political views – he actively supported labour unions, equal pay and civil rights. As the US was swept up in anti-Communist paranoia in the aftermath of World War II, Trumbo’s association with the Communist party brought suspicion on him and similar-minded colleagues of his and it was not long before they are called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Trumbo refused to cooperate, and was promptly sent to prison for a few months.
By that time, the infamous ‘Hollywood Blacklist’ had taken shape and Trumbo’s name was prominently on it. After his stint in jail – and for the next 13 years or so – his name was poison and no-one willing to associate themselves with him or his politics. With money running out and a family to support, Trumbo was forced to earn money writing scripts under a pseudonym for B-movies mogul Frank King (John Goodman).
Things started looking up considerably when some Hollywood heavyweights went against the grain and fought to restore to the writer the recognition he so thoroughly deserved.
Trumbo is a compelling account of one of the major protagonists of the darkest periods in Hollywood history; when the principal studios and major players turned against one of their own. If the telling of the tale by director Jay Roach, working off a screenplay by John McNamara, is quite sedate compared to the larger-than-life persona of its titular character, the film paints a fascinating picture of the period.
The locations, costumes and setting capture the glamour of old Hollywood
The locations, costumes and setting capture the glamour of old Hollywood; with an ensemble bringing that world alive with some on-the-nose portrayals of some of the era’s greatest legends – including John Wayne (David James Elliot) who as president of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals was one of the first people with whom Trumbo famously butted heads; Michael Stuhlbarg offering a subtle, moving and uncanny performance as actor Edward G Robinson, a Trumbo friend, ally and ultimately betrayer; while Helen Mirren portrays one of Trumbo’s biggest enemies, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper who wielded enormous power at the time and with her writings could make or break careers.
Flamboyant, opinionated and ruthless, Hopper could have easily been portrayed as a one-dimensional villain, yet the pitch-perfect Mirren projects her conviction that her behaviour was noble.
Away from the Hollywood spotlight, but integral to Trumbo’s life, were his ever patient and supportive wife Cleo (a sympathetic Diane Lane) and his children, who stood by him through thick and thin, tolerating his many tantrums in the bad times and cheering his successes in the good. That two of his screenplays won Academy Awards without bearing his name is testament to the man’s incomparable talent.
Yet, for all the sterling work brought to bear by his supporting cast, Trumbo is Bryan Cranston’s film through and through. Trumbo was talented, witty and opinionated, a complex man and a mass of contradictions. And it is these contradictions that made him such a fascinating person – he was, for example, a committed communist who enjoyed the trappings of the Hollywood lifestyle. When questioned about his inherent contradictions, he replied “the radicals may fight with the purity of Jesus; but the rich guy wins with the cunning of Satan.” Just one of the many witticisms that trip so effortlessly off Cranston’s tongue in this remarkable performance.
Cranston embodies all facets of the man – writer, political activist, and family man – with consummate ease, offering an always committed, vibrant and insightful look at a man, capturing his manic energy, razor-sharp intelligence, bonhomie and profound disappointment that he was perceived by some to be a traitor. He was, after all, a personality who had all of Hollywood at his feet before being punished for what he believed in, including the sacrosanct right of free speech. And, as the film reaches its moving denouement, when some wrongs finally get righted, you can’t help but applaud inwardly.
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