Tag Archives: Jay Roach

Trumbo (2015) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin


Director: Jay Roach
Writers: John McNamara, Bruce Cook (book)
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, John Goodman

The year is 1947 and Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) one of Hollywood’s top Screenwriters along with other artists and colleagues are jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.

Although Dalton Trumbo was one of the most successful and highest paid writers in Hollywood in this era it wasn’t illegal to be a member of the Communist Party in the United States of America, he actually went to prison because he wouldn’t “name names” before the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee)

As always Bryan Cranston continues to impress me in his various roles over the last few years. I reviewed his performance as Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator (2016) a few months back and I was looking forward to watching him portray another complex character in Dalton Trumbo. Again Cranston has the charm and delivery to intrigue the audience early on in the film and John McNamara (writer) although mostly writes for Television did a fantastic job in writing the true story based on the book by Bruce Cook.

Although Cranston is supported by a star studded supporting cast in Mirren, Lane and Goodman he owns all of his scenes and his delivery in the face of confrontation is an important factor in my opinion why he was casted to the lead role.

In a particular memorable scene involving a confrontation between Trumbo and Screen Legend John Wayne I can’t think of any other actor who could portray a man in the face adversity handling the pressure and the situation with gentle and articulated behaviour and coming off the better man in the scene.

I use the word pressure as the HUAC were supported by columnist Hedda Hopper portrayed by Helen Mirren and my impression of the HUAC was that they weren’t just satisfied with sending these men to prison. They wanted to bury them. Mirren although has limited screen time doesn’t waste a second in her role as Hopper. A manipulative and spiteful character in this film and I have to say it is very rare to have that feeling of dislike towards a character played by Helen Mirren but she plays the character convincingly and although I don’t know enough of Hedda Hopper I did get the impression that she held a lot of weight in her day in control and input within the HUAC.

A little brief history on the HUAC was their task to create a blacklist of people within the business who had affiliations with the Communist Party preventing them finding employment in Hollywood which led to a lot of writers etc losing their homes, some divorced due to money struggles and others losing the will to live. Some had to make their way over the seas to Europe for work.

Trumbo wrote and directed using substitutes or false names and in some cases credited some of his work to close friends working in Hollywood who weren’t on the Blacklist and winning academy awards. He would have to take a step down in pay to distribute his writings to Frank King who was a studio owner who mostly worked in “B” movies. King was portrayed by the brilliant John Goodman and although he knew of Trumbo and his alliances, he didn’t really care about that as he knew he had a first class writer working for his studio. Goodman is at his best in these roles as the hard hitting, nothing to lose characters and here he is no different.

Playing Cleo Trumbo is Diane Lane as Dalton’s long suffering but supportive wife and does a fine job. Lane to be honest doesn’t have much to do in the movie. There are a few domestic arguments between Lane and Cranston in particular the stress of his writing and forgetting at times that he has a family. Lane is portraying the Wife and Mother trying to hold her family together in these harrowing times and she always manages to pull off these roles with conviction.

Director Jay Roach manages to keep the flow of this movie moving along at a reasonable pace that highlights the viewpoint of many in the United States at this time and also illustrates the difference in beliefs among the characters without portraying Trumbo as a victim to himself but a victim of circumstance at a time when the “Cold War” was brewing and showing how manipulative the media could be to the masses. Roach also manages to not bog the audience down with a political drama but more a human and family drama.The Director also should be applauded for demonstrating the great mind of Dalton Trumbo and his courage throughout the adversity. His story is inspiring and along with his family’s (mostly his wife and oldest daughters characteristics seem to support his pride, bravery and dedication to his cause.

I’m glad the filmmakers decided to include a montage of historical facts that took place after the events of this film and what happened in Trumbo’s life up to his passing in 1976.

I highly recommend watching Trumbo as a great piece of cinema and a must watch.

All the Way (2016) Movie Review by Kevan McLaughlin


Director: Jay Roach
Writers: Robert Schenkkan (teleplay),  Robert Schenkkan (play)
Stars: Bryan Cranston,  Anthony Mackie,  Melissa Leo

Playing lead roles in biopics of Robert Mazur and Dalton Trumbo in The Infiltrator and Trumbo, respectively, hasn’t stopped Bryan Cranston pursuing parts and crafting his considerable talents which require him to transform himself, in spirit, into real-life characters. In All the Way, Cranston encapsulates the 36th President of the United in the harshest and most honest way possible.

Lyndon B Johnson has been portrayed on-screen before, ranging from movies like Forrest Gump to Batman: The Movie, as well as the prestigious Animaniacs. Numerous actors have also played the part including Michael Gambon, Liev Schreiber and, in an upcoming movie, Woody Harrelson. But enough was thought of the Tony-award winning play of the same name, written by the same author (Robert Schenkkan) and enough was thought of Cranston’s portrayal to warrant recreating the effort in HBO’s TV movie.

In the immediate aftermath of JFK’s assassination, hastily sworn in Vice President LBJ takes control of the White House at a particularly tumultuous time. The United States is in the middle of a Cold War with the USSR, the country is still reeling from the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviets are winning in the space race, the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam is raging and the Civil Rights movement is gathering momentum, to which a sizable part of the country are deeply and violently opposed.
The film centres around LBJ’s attempt to push through meaningful civil rights legislation passed a barrage of stubbornness, ignorance and intolerance in Washington. The most notable barrier to a bill being passed is Senator Richard Russell (Langella) of Georgia who, among other Dixiecrats and Good Ol’ Boys, may abandon the party if it succeeds. Their citing of ‘Southern traditions’ are a thinly-veiled smokescreen of contempt for any significant change to the way Black voters are registered in the South.

It seems as though for the bill to come to fruition, LBJ may have to sacrifice the purity of its original intent to secure the votes needed, much to the chagrin of a certain Martin Luther King Jr (Anthony Mackie). MLK, desperately trying to appease a disenfranchised and oppressed people, is vehemently opposed to diluting the original content of the bill with several amendments.

Caught in the middle is LBJ. Trying to do what is right and losing out completely are what’s at stake. Heightened racial tensions and escalating violence towards African Americans for standing up for their beliefs are causing panic in the corridors of power. Further mayhem ensues when three civil rights activists are murdered in Mississippi, prompting the President to trick the Director of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, into investigating the crime.

There are a number of very interesting aspects investigated throughout All the Way which has never really been explored before on film. Firstly, this is not a fond (or even comfortable) look back at the President. We aren’t emotionally invested in the character. He’s brash, bullying and mostly unpleasant. But that’s kinda the point. Cinema is littered with affectionate portrayals of history’s greatest men and women. Here, we aren’t emotionally in the character’s character, but in his beliefs. And that’s only right. LBJ is not remembered with the affection history has for JFK, the admiration for Lincoln or the stoicism of FDR. Johnson, in his own words, is America’s “accidental President”.

Bryan Cranston is becoming something of a master of playing real-life characters. He excelled in both the Infiltrator and Trumbo, the latter of which saw him embodying the persona. And that’s what we’re getting here. Much like Michael Sheen’s turns as Kenneth Williams, Tony Blair, Brian Clough and David Frost, this isn’t a performance or an impression of a man. He becomes LBJ, not by imitating the accent or wearing the glasses, but by affecting his mannerisms and being as dismissive and blunt as the real man through his body language, not the memorised words from the script.
Martin Luther King Jr is often portrayed as a confident, statesmen-like character (and quite rightly), seldom wavering from his beliefs and always knowing the right path. Anthony Mackie’s performance here is something quite different. He shows us a vulnerable MLK. Here he’s unsure, conflicted and more than a little lost. It would be a tragic understatement to say that it was a brave choice, by both the actor and director, to pursue this path. Mackie brings us a realism that’s so often overlooked in real-life portrayals.

The film also does something rather unique. It connects the dots cinematically, if not historically. Mississippi Burning, Selma, JFK and Jackie are just a few of the films where we know the story of everything else about such a tumultuous time is US history. This is the story that isn’t often told. Maybe it was deemed less poignant than the senseless and hate-filled motives of the murder of three people who protested for a better world. And it might be fair that LBJ’s story be overshadowed by that of the events in Selma. However, this is the story that needed to be told. The bigotry at that time wasn’t confined to Mississippi or Alabama. It was also in Washington. It was in the beliefs held by Senators, Governors and Judges.
Why this film was made at this time may be of note to some who might see comparisons between then and now. That’s not for this reviewer to say.