In 1947, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was Hollywood's top screenwriter until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs. TRUMBO (directed by Jay Roach) recounts how Dalton used words and wit to win two Academy Awards and expose the absurdity and injustice under the blacklist, which entangled everyone from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) to John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger.Written by
As the credit scroll begins, photos of the real Dalton Trumbo, his family and other people portrayed in the film are shown. These are followed by historical footage of Trumbo giving an interview (from the same one where he acknowledges that he is 'Robert Rich'). See more »
I've seen some mixed reviews of Trumbo, and in a way I can understand why it wouldn't impress some film critics. It is a movie where the movie business, and especially movie personalities, are given over to actors to play. It's not unlike a few years ago with the Anthony Hopkins Hitchcock: you got a big cast and they all have roles to play from people who, if you're a big movie buff (or even someone who just knows who Kirk Douglas or John Wayne were, and that's probably a lot, whether or not you know who Dalton Trumbo was entirely), there's an aspect of 'Oh, he's or she is playing HIM or HER!' But I think with a sharp enough script that sort of thing goes by the way-side, especially if it gives the right actors some good stuff to play. There's nothing about Trumbo that is especially complex, as it has the message that most of us in 2015 would agree with: the Hollywood Blacklist, not just what happened to the Hollywood 10 but many others, was a horrible thing, and the thesis comes down to the idea that there were good and bad people in it but it also came down to the nature of it all making people victims... well, except for Hedda Hopper.
The movie is fun though whether or not you know a lot about the history because of who is in the cast and especially Bryan Cranston as Trumbo. He's a man who makes a lot of money in the 40's in Hollywood writing scripts and yet is an avowed Communist (he makes the case to his daughter in such a way early on in the film that some might question but most of us would go 'huh, that's it then'). A lot of the conflict comes because of what the history had right there: HUAC went after people in Hollywood who were suspected 'traitors', but in reality were just writers and (some) actors and directors who had affiliations with the party, and thanks to pressure by columnist Hedda Hopper (played here by Helen Mirren in a role that's deliciously evil) and John Wayne (actor I can't remember but does a good impression without being caricature-ish), a group got pressured. They didn't name names, were held in contempt of court, found guilty and did time. Well, unless if you were Edward G. Robinson (though he's shown in a somewhat sympathetic light, maybe just by Michael Stuhlbarg being in the role).
The bulk of the story is about the 'front' that Trumbo led for himself and other blacklisted writers such as stubborn/cancer-ridden Arlen Hird (Louis CK, always a pleasure to watch, but especially in scenes with Cranston). They used fake names to get their scripts made, even as they had no choice for a while but to team up with filmmakers who were out to just make "crap" (an echo in a way for me of Burton's Ed Wood with the John Goodman character). There's some predictable drama that unfolds - the all-business-all-writing part of Dalton that conflicts with being a father and family-man and clashing with his daughter and wife (very good Elle Fanning and Diane Lane respectively) - but what helps it along all the way is just a sharp script and direction that keeps things thematically strong.
This is serious stuff what happened to these people in Hollywood, and director Jay Roach and writer John McNamara know that, all the way up to a final speech from Trumbo upon winning a WGA award that puts things into a perspective that (almost) makes Trumbo too fair to those who really wronged him and his friends. But it's just full of wit an clever lines; if you're a sucker for that, as I can be sometimes, then Trumbo makes for a balance of the light and dark stuff. Again if nothing else, Cranston makes someone who can easily be seen as a CHARACTER in bold letters (and by many accounts that is who Trumbo was) and gives him three dimensions and perspective on the situations that unfold. He does things that may be wrong and provocative, in both bad and good ways, and is told off enough that any of his short-comings become kind of charming. I could've spent more time with his Trumbo and been happy, especially in light of the history that unfolds here (i.e. Roman Holiday, Spatacus, Exodus, other productions like The Brave One).
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