If you watch or read the daily news then you know that some crazy stuff can and does happen in the world of American politics; insane and inane policies, created by numbskulls, that infringe on our privacy and Constitutional rights. As the excellent new film, Trumbo, shows us, these governmental misadventures have been going on for a long time, leaving an untold number of wounded and dead citizens in their wake.
Trumbo tells the story of film artisans in the 1940s and 50s who were blacklisted at the behest of the U.S. government (via the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee) and unable to work in their profession because of their affiliation with the Communist party. And as you might infer from the film’s title, the movie’s focus is on the eccentric American screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo.
Bryan Cranston gives an excellent performance as the titular character; one that I think is bold enough to potentially garner an Oscar nomination. His Trumbo is sly, smart and completely captivating, while delivering incredible and memorable lines from the script by John McNamara (based on the book, Dalton Trumbo, by Bruce Cook.)
For standing up for his freedom of speech, Trumbo lost his home and financial security, served time in jail, was alienated by his friends and business associates, and yet still found a way to successfully practice his craft, winning two Academy Awards for films (Roman Holiday and The Brave One) he wrote using a pseudonym.
For my money, downtrodden characters who still find a way to succeed – and stick it to “the man” in the process – are the most entertaining to watch; and Trumbo delivers on this premise in a way that will make you proud to be an American while at the same time cringe at this shameful chapter in our history.
The acting is all first-rate in Trumbo, which also stars Helen Mirren as the actress/gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper, who was instrumental in naming names during the Communist witch-hunts; Diane Lane as Trumbo’s long-suffering wife, Cleo; Michael Stuhlbarg as the actor, Edward G. Robinson, a Trumbo supporter who ultimately sold out his friends to protect himself; Alan Tudyk as the screenwriter, Ian McLellan Hunter, who sold Trumbo’s scripts as his own; Louis C.K. as Trumbo’s idealistic commie friend, Arlen Hird; and John Goodman as Frank King, a flamboyant B-movie producer.
David James Elliott plays the actor, John Wayne, who, according to the film, was complicit in harming many of Hollywood’s blacklisted performers and writers; and I walked away from this movie with a new, skewed view of this all-American icon.
Trumbo is directed by Jay Roach, the man that gave us Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Meet the Parents. You can tell he’s a little bit out of his comfort zone with this movie, but he has ultimately created a thought-provoking historical drama that also has some very funny moments.
This is a film that is certainly as timely as today’s headlines and, unfortunately, it was very easy to envision the faces of many of today’s politicians on the bodies of the ideological persecutors portrayed in this movie. It’s an opportunity to be pleasantly entertained while learning from our past. Grade: 8/10