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.