<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Jay Roach. Starring Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, John Goodman, Alan Tudyk, Elle Fanning, Louis CK, Michael Stuhlbarg, Dean O’Gorman, Richard Portnow, John Getz, Christian Berkel, David James Elliott, Roger Bart, Stephen Root
Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes
Trumbo works because of Bryan Cranston’s performance.
If you know something about American history you know about the famed ‘blacklist’ and Un-American Activities Committee back in the 1940s and 50s, which deemed all Communists as ‘traitors to the state’ and barred them from working. This included some famous Hollywood screenwriters and actors as well, some of whom were ruined because of the public ‘hearings’ where they were shamed and often imprisoned. One such screenwriter was Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) who loved his country but was condemned for his views by the politicians leading this witch-hunt.
There was also a prominent columnist and TV personality called Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and actor John Wayne (David James Elliott) who rallied against the ‘commies’ and campaigned to get them out of the big studios. It was an ignorance and lust for hatred that fuelled their passion of vitriol.
But Dalton Trumbo was a man of principle and stood his ground, even going to jail for contempt of Congress. When he got out he found an ingenious way to keep writing his stories under various assumed names for B-film producers the King’s and then also for actors like Kirk Douglas. He won a few Oscars for these movies and Hollywood grapevine knew of his involvement but could do nothing. Eventually, the blacklist was abandoned as a new President took charge but the travesty of justice that was inflicted on the ‘Hollywood 10’ and hundreds of others altered lives forever.
Trumbo feels like a stage play at times simply because all the actors have to bring all these old movie stars and celebrities to life in a showmanship of sorts. It’s a bit over the top at times and feels theatrical. Though the subject matter is serious the film is actually quite funny. A secondary cause of black rights in America is tackled as well through Trumbo’s activist daughter (Elle Fanning). It’s interesting to see how Trumbo functioned, juggling multiple scripts and getting his friends to contribute. His family’s support inspite of his less than amiable ways of working most of the time is admirable.
In the later part of the film characters like Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and director Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) are introduced to show us how Hollywood hadn’t lost its real heroes.
Director Jay Roach mixes some black and white footage (but not all real) into the mix to give you a flavour of the times. Trumbo is an interesting film simply because Bryan Cranston has brought Trumbo to life vividly and inspiringly.