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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Trumbo | Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, John Goodman, Louis CK, Helen Mirren | Review

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4sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is GOOD Judy Thorburn

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4lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is GOOD

 

Trumbo

In his first leading role on the big screen, Emmy and Tony award winning actor, Bryan Cranston stars as the late Dalton Trumbo. And I must say, Cranston chews up the scenery with his embodiment of the mustachioed, larger than life,  gifted Hollywood screenwriter.

Under the direction of Jay Roach, working from John McNamara's script,  the true story takes place during a shameful time in American history, when the country feared there was a conspiracy by Communists to overthrow the nation and destroy American values. Known as the McCarthy era, there was an ongoing witch-hunt to expose and get rid of those even suspected of having ties or sympathies to the Communist party. One of the main targets was the Hollywood entertainment industry, filled with liberal idealists. Among those who came under fire and were blacklisted were several writers and directors that came to be known as “The Hollywood Ten,” with Trumbo perhaps being the most successful and famous.

As an advocate of the first amendment and outspoken supporter and registered member of the American Communist Party, in 1947 Trumbo wound up paying a hefty price after he was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Refusing to answer any questions about his knowledge of the “supposed” ongoing Communist conspiracy, or whether he is, or has ever been a member of the Communist party,  he reacted by saying,  “Is it crime? You have no right to criminalize thought”. Regardless of the truth,  Trumbo was sited for contempt of court, given a one year prison sentence, fined, and upon release, found himself blacklisted from the industry and forced to sell his home and move to a more modest house, where his hateful neighbor sends him a card calling him a traitor, and discovers his swimming pool vandalized.

Trumbo had no choice but to earn a living writing under pseudonyms in order to support his loyal wife Cleo (the always terrific, Diane Lane) and their three kids. Desperate for work anywhere he could get it, he approaches Frank King  (John Goodman), head of King Features, known for their trashy, B movies, where he agrees to write scripts, under another name, for way less than his usual paycheck. Louis CK plays Trumbo's best friend/ fellow blacklisted screenwriter, Arlen Hird (a fictitious, composite character) who is angry with Trumbo, believing that he sold out writing for a B movie company.

As work keeps pouring in from differences sources, Trumbo is shown doing his best writing, secluded behind his bathroom door, pounding out one script after another, while seated in the bathtub, with a cigarette in one hand, a drink in the other, in front of a typewriter that is perched on a board across the tub. Obsessed with work being a priority, Trumbo enlists the help of his family to cover for him, which entails having them answering the phone and delivering scripts.  Although he never stopped fighting for his rights, and was able to undermine the blacklist, when two of his scripts, Roman Holiday and The Brave One won Academy Awards,  he was unable to claim the Oscar since they were written under other names.  It wasn't until 1960, when producer/actor Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger, acting as champions for social justice, came forward, openly crediting Trumbo for penning their films, Spartacus and Exodus,  that the blacklist came to an end.

Helen Mirren hits just the right chord as Hedda Hopper, the vicious, powerful and feared, gossip columnist and anti semite who took advantage of her vast readership to convince studio executives into enforcing the blacklist.

Other fine supporting players include Michael Stuhlbarg as actor Edward G. Robinson, who named names, ratting out his friends before the committee because he feared he would no longer get work as an actor in order to support his lifestyle and collection of expensive paintings by the masters, and  Elle Fanning as Nikola, Trumbo's teenage daughter/activist who wants to be like her dad.

As for other members of the cast, David James Elliott is almost laughable in his cheesy portrayal of John Wayne, the ultra conservative American movie star, considered a hero although he never served in the military. Dean O’Gorman does his best to impersonate Kirk Douglas, while Christian Berkel comes off more like  a caricature of Otto Preminger rather than the real thing.

Trumbo is an entertaining movie featuring an impressive performance by Cranston, but most importantly there is a valuable lesson to be learned about protecting the rights of every American, which was denied to those blacklisted and resulted in the loss of livelihood and homes, families torn apart, and suicides.  It is a timeless message that should not be forgotten.

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