Dalton Trumbo was one of Hollywood’s most celebrated screenwriters until he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. During one of America’s darkest times, Trumbo would be one of the few voices of reason. For so many issues, this film is a voice of reason to current times and the international tensions we face today.
By Kenneth Shipp
Set during the rise of Trumbo’s writing career, the fear of Soviet subversion was at a fever pitch as well. Along with his fellow like-minded writers and actors, Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) unsuccessfully attempts to counter the communist propaganda claims by his counterparts, John Wayne (David James Elliott) and Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren). Eventually their names are given to the House Committee and they are charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to testify. After their jail time, Trumbo and the other writers are without work and can’t attach their name to anything less it be boycotted or rejected.
Ever resourceful and defiant, this time of rejection is when he really gets to work, churning out script after script to a mediocre film company lead by Frank King (John Goodman). He eventually bands together his other colleagues and they find a means to survive even if they can’t put their name on anything. Cranston seemed to really be enjoying playing his part and it shows with how easily his delivers his lines. It was almost like a kid in a candy store relishing the chance to pick his own lollipop. Sometimes though, it felt like I was getting more of an angry Heisenburg than the wise and astute Trumbo.
Early on, we get accustomed and easily introduced to various actors, directors, and fellow screenwriters who would have an impact on Trumbo. The most notable of these is Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.), who is a composite of 5 members of the Hollywood Ten (Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, and Samuel Ornitz). Louis C.K. probably plays off of Cranston the best out of the cast. He receives the most screentime with Trumbo and asks him the hardest questions besides Trumbo’s family.
The family performances from Diane Lane and Elle Fanning have to highlighted, not only because of how central they were to keeping his sanity, but to also show how well Lane and Fanning did with their opportunities. Two arguments later in the film are where their performance shines the brightest and are wake up calls to a overworked Trumbo, who had been pouring himself into his scripts. You will feel annoyed by Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), but that’s totally normal, I did too. That’s the point though; the way she grates against the characters is meant to be felt by the audience.
The large cast meant we couldn’t really get close to anyone other than Trumbo. And while he is certainly entertaining, the whirlwind of a story surrounding him can make you feel as if we were missing out on some other excellent threads. The overall solid performances by the rest of cast help shore up any deficiencies. There are definitely a few moments that get weakened because we simply can’t spend enough time with all the players involved.
The timing of this release couldn’t be any more coincidental. Like Bridge of Spies only a few months ago, both films’ protagonists are victims of the McCarthy years and they both took defiant stands against them both. With Trumbo, we get a look at the industry probably hammered the most during those years and how those wrongly accused stood above it. Dalton Trumbo’s continued cinema work and his subsequent Oscar awards for Roman Holiday and The Brave One(both of which he couldn’t put his name on at the time), helped break down the blacklist and restore normalcy for many of his fellow writers. Trumbo may not hit as high of a mark however it definitely sheds wonderful insight on one of Hollywood’s most influential and remarkable writers, reminding us how we can and should act when facing fear.
Trumbo: 8 out of 10
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