Simply titled Trumbo, the new film from director Jay Roach (Austin Powers trilogy, Meet the Parents) tells of the man himself, Dalton Trumbo. Bryan Cranston exquisitely embodies the wisecracking scribe, a prominent American screenwriter during the ‘40s who continued to write all the way until his death in 1976. Despite leading quite the momentous life, you could say it is the latter part of his career that makes this story so inspiring and enjoyable.
Trumbo was part of the “Hollywood Ten,” a group of creative types who were trialed, jailed and blacklisted from the industry for their communist ideals, which they refused to answer allegations on. Even after Trumbo’s time in jail, a former friend tarnished his name in order to save his own career. The film depicts Trumbo’s return to the industry under different aliases. It isn’t until Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and director Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) come into Trumbo’s life that things begin to change.
I’m not going to hide my love for this film. Trumbo is simply effortless and beautiful to look at. Trumbo evokes the same essence Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Imitation Game has, a costume drama that doesn’t distract the viewer with its décor. This is not Mad Men, although everyone is well dressed, the costumes are understated and do not distract the eye – that falls only to the occasional clever furnishing. But it’s the films important look at history, or as much, the controlling, cutthroat film industry that makes Trumbo so strong.
The film includes figures like John Wayne (David James Elliot), one of the head honchos of the anti-communism legislation, who didn’t really look like Wayne at all, and gossipy columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), who keeps the hatred afloat in her columns by listing the names of these artists. Mirren’s Hopper is a little too catty and problematic throughout her little screen time, although this is counteracted beautifully in a much-needed scene in which Hopper is stripped of makeup and personality to deliver something both minimal and sad.
As far as the other characters are concerned, they are so solid it’s hard not to take the time and give a shout out to everyone. There’s much to enjoy with Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.), Trumbo’s close and blacklisted friend. Louis C.K.’s performance, wonderfully encapsulating the frustration with injustice the film exhibits, is worthy of a nod at this year’s Academy Awards. He portrays the damage of the blacklisted candidates in an honest and funny Louis C.K. way. Trumbo’s oldest daughter, Niki (Elle Fanning), is another standout. Quite simply, she wears the pain and activism Trumbo has handed down. But, ultimately, it’s really about Cranston holding this impressive ensemble together. He may be a far distance from Breaking Bad’s Walter White, but he is similarly both lovable and controlling as he challenges the dynamics of the politics in question.
This is not a pro-communism ordeal, even if the narrative, at times, may cause it to feel that way. Instead, it is a reflection of an era and of the anxieties that impinged creative thought.
Trumbo is the type of film we can watch in a privileged period, at least in much of the western world. Apart from the effortless quality the cast and crew bring to the film, knowing that a creative mind is mostly free to express itself nowadays without being stripped of identity makes Trumbo all the more important.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10