Trumbo (2015) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language including some sexual references
Running Time: 124 min.
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Louis C.K., Helen Mirren, Michael Stuhlbarg, Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Alan Tudyk, Roger Bart, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Stephen Root, David James Elliott, Dean O'Gorman, John Getz
Director: Jay Roach
Screenplay: John McNamara (based on the book, "Dalton Trumbo", by Bruce Cook)
Review published October 26, 2015
Dalton Trumbo was a talented Hollywood screenwriter, at one time, the highest paid in his industry. Despite his love for big money contracts, he was also a member of the Communist Party in the United States, something LA Times gossip columnist Hedda Hopper would point out in her crusade against this increasing threat in the country, starting with those who worked in the entertainment industry of the era. Forced to testify, but refusing to answer direct questions to the House Un-American Activites Committee, Trumbo and other members of the then-called Hollywood Ten would serve jail time for contempt, and then het black-listed in Hollywood, which meant no one would hire his screenwriting services.
At least not directly. Under false names, Trumbo would write many screenplays, mostly B-movies for low-budget schlock-meisters, the King Brothers, but also including two Oscar winners for Roman Holiday and The Brave One -- awards he could not accept. He wrote the screenplay for Spartacus, which, along with work for Otto Preminger's Exodus, would eventually lead to the restoration of Trumbo's name in Hollywood as a screenwriter of renown.
Emmy Award-winning director Jay Roach (Game Change, Meet the Fockers) helms this glossy, dramatic period piece, his first of two consecutive biopics to feature Bryan Cranston (Godzilla, Argo), with the next effort for HBO, covering Lyndon Baines Johnson in All the Way, based on the Tony-winning play that the actor had appeared in on the stage. Taking material gleaned from the Bruce Cook biography, originally published in 1977, as well as personal interviews with Trumbo's offspring, John McNamara ("The Magicians", "Aquarius") scripts with nods toward seeing the humor of the situation, which Jay Roach, who cut his teeth in the industry with comedies, tees up on with vigor.
Bryan Cranston delivers a fine and borderline-flamboyant performance as Dalton Trumbo, who rapturously expounded upon his many ideas with a gift for words that would seem like they were always scripted before every utterance. As a clip from an interview with the actual man shows during the end credits, it's just how the man spoke, with a true gift for words that flowed through him, allowing for him to be quite prolific in his scripts, something he would greatly need to keep up with the high demands and low pay of the King Brothers' productions.
Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold) is also terrific in a character that could have easily been played as pure evil save for the fact that she had been doing what she thought was right, as the fancy-hat wearing Hedda Hopper, whose only positive attribute, as Roach points out in Q&A's for the film, is that she wasn't a hypocrite. John Goodman (The Gambler) gets choice moments to shine in a mostly comedic performance as eccentric studio head Frank King, and Louis C.K. (Blue Jasmine) shows off a bit of his understated witticisms as amalgam character Arlin Hird.
Although it features a card-carrying member of the Communist Party as its protagonist, Trumbo isn't a pro-Communist story so much as a cry against intolerance, stating within the movie, from Trumbo himself, that he has a right to be wrong. It's an important story just about one man, the self-inflicted black eye of the Hollywood industry, or just about the "Red Scare" that took root in politics and the public in the 1940s and 1950s, but as a showcase for how paranoia, fear, and the hysteria that leads to smearing whole swaths of people as the boogeyman out to destroy the American way of life in the media and in Congress not only ruins the lives of many, but also is more detrimental to the American way of life that those who badger, bully and incarcerate seek to protect.
Although the subject matter is serious, and the lives destroyed by the panic of the stirred-up public depressing and infuriating, credit Roach and a very lovely cast for finding levity in dark times in Hollywood, crafting one of the more interesting and witty films of the year. We should expect no less from a film about one of the more interesting and witty screenwriters of his, or any, generation.
©2015 Vince Leo