RELEASE DATE: 19th February 2016
RUNNING TIME: 124 min
STARRING: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, John Getz, Diane Lane, Laura Flannery, Helen Mirren
DIRECTOR: Jay Roach
WRITERS: John McNamara, Bruce Cook (book)
PRODUCERS: Kevin Kelly Brown, Michelle Graham, Monica Levinson, Michael London
PRODUCTION BUDGET: N/A
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: https://www.facebook.com/TrumboMovie/
Bryan Cranston shines in a film about one of the best writers Hollywood’s ever seen.
Based on the true life story of Dalton Trumbo, Trumbo tells the tale of a man, sent to jail for fighting for his beliefs, and then having to fight even harder after being released. In 1947 Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was one of the most respected, most revered and most well paid writers in Hollywood, but all that changed when the government started looking into the political affiliations of those that created entertainment for America, and found out that Trumbo and several other writers were, not only Communists, but outspoken Communists. Because of their ideologies, these men were bought before a congressional oversight committee, but refused to acknowledge the committee and ended up in jail for contempt. After their release, they were black listed, purposefully stopped from getting work as writers, but Trumbo was too good, so he made a deal to write under a bunch of pseudonyms, creating a writing syndicate that resulted in one of the biggest scandals in Hollywood history, when he won an Oscar under one of his false names.
WHY WATCH IT
I think everyone in the film industry, be they writers, actors, producers, whatever, know about the McCarthy, House Committee on Un-American Activities, Hollywood witch hunt of the 1950’s. The way that people in the industry were hunted down and accused of being Communists, or even Russian spies, blacklisted to not work and left out in the cold, whether they were Communists or not, and very few of them were. Several films have been made to cover the events, notably Good Night and Good Luck, and The Majestic, but what a lot of people don’t know was that McCarthy wasn’t the start of the committee, in fact it started much earlier, and investigated people who were, in fact, Communists. One of these men was Dalton Trumbo, a writer and advocate for equal rights and payment for the set builders, the lowest on the rung of Hollywood workers. He and his friends, who were also Communists, were the first to be attacked by the paranoia that took hold of America in this time period, and resulted in all of them being black listed and put in jail because they refused to answer the committee’s questions. After being released Trumbo went on to work with low budget film maker, Frank King, played by John Goodman, who didn’t much care what the committee thought either, but they didn’t put Trumbo’s name on the scripts. Trumbo then went on to create a ring of writers, his old friends, who ended up writing virtually every project in Hollywood over a period of time, and even winning Oscars, until he came out as the author of these films once it was clear that the committee was pretty much falling apart at the seams. It’s a remarkable story of what perseverance and tenacity can do, but also of the craziness that occurs when a government points the finger and says: Those people are dangerous, you should hate them, and people do. It’s rather frightening.
The funniest thing about it was, that because these men were Communists, meaning they wanted the poorer people to get a fair share, and for everything not to go to the rich, everyone assumed that they were Russian, and spies working for the enemy government, which was a total joke. The people then, and some today, can’t make the distinction between an ideology and an affiliation, which is sad. Just look at Terrorists and the Islam faith today.
The performances across the board are good in this film.
Diane Lane, as Trumbo’s wife Cleo, is strong and unbreakable, even in the face of seeing her husband go to jail.
Goodman is laughably great as this deeply greedy producer who doesn’t care about much, besides money. He has one of the best moments in the film when he’s threatened by a government official to fire Trumbo, and he doesn’t take kindly to it.
Helen Mirren is outstanding as Hedda Hopper, a former actress turned gossip columnist who hates everything Communism, especially Trumbo.
The actors who play the other writers are strong and believable in their roles, with a stand out coming from Louis C.K. as Alan Hird, the closest thing Trumbo has to a best friend, and Alan Tudyk as Ian McLellan Hunter, who Trumbo uses to get his first project picked up after being placed on the blacklist. Michael Stuhlbarg also shines as Edward G. Robinson, an actor sympathetic to Trumbo and his cause, but who eventually folds under the pressure of the committee.
Another standout, for me, was Madison Wolfe who plays Trumbo’s daughter, Nicci, between the ages of 8 and 11. She doesn’t have much time on the screen, but the few scenes she does have she really steals from everyone else in the shot, and I look forward to seeing her in a more substantial role. Elle Fanning takes over the role as the character gets older and she continues with another great performance, but it’s set up by Wolfe who shines.
Of course, there would be no Trumbo film without a Trumbo, and Cranston gives the performance of his career in this film. He’s charming and wordy and smart and embodies Trumbo so well we forget were the actor ends and the character begins. He breathes such a level of emotion that the audience really gets pulled into the story. We cry when he does, we laugh when he does, and we feel every moment of the man’s life through Cranston’s eyes. It’s an Oscar level performance.
A special word needs to be said about the directing and the writing too. The directing is tight and controlled, paying special attention to make Trumbo as true to life as possible, while the writing is incredibly important, since Trumbo was such an influence to many writers out there. John McNamara has done a great job of capturing the way the man worked, the importance of words to him and creating Trumbo as a character, as well as a real man on the screen.
This is a worthy Oscar film, and if you love Oscar films then you’ll love this one. Also, if you loved Cranston in Breaking Bad, then do yourself a favour and go and see this film. You’ll love him even more and be shouting at the TV for him to win the Oscar on Oscar night.
Jon Broeke (@jonbroeke)