Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston creates a compelling portrait of a fascinating man in Trumbo. He stars as Dalton Trumbo, the brilliant screenwriter of Roman Holiday, who in the 1950s was blacklisted from Hollywood for being a member of the Communist party but continued to work, and win Oscars under various pseudonyms.
The film may sound like a dry history lesson, but Meet The Parents director Jay Roach allows a lightness of touch, delivering a simplistic but entertaining account of one of Hollywood’s darkest periods.
Cranston, sporting a permanently wry smile, is terrific as the beleaguered Trumbo, who drank too much, wrote in the bath, and largely neglected his family. Identified as one of the ‘Hollywood 10’ who was held in contempt of Congress for refusing to “name names”, he was sent to jail and subsequently blacklisted by the major studios. Also in very good form is Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper, the powerful gossip columnist who led the witch-hunt, bolstered by support from such heavyweights as John Wayne and Ronald Reagan.
Commendably, the film seldom slips into sentimental territory, while nevertheless reflecting how reputations were tarnished and lives were ruined by so much as the slightest suspicion of being a left-wing sympathizer. We get an inspiring protagonist in Trumbo, who decided that the best way to defeat his oppressors was by doing exactly what they said he couldn’t.
Of the many famous figures during that period, a young Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) emerges as a real hero, rejecting the Blacklist and publicly supporting Dalton Trumbo by hiring him to write the script of Spartacus. John Goodman shines as B-movie producer Frank King who pays Trumbo to bang out scripts despite the ban, and sticks by him (albeit for selfish reasons) even when things get rough.
At times the film feels overstuffed from too much history being condensed into 2 hours. But it’s consistently engaging, primarily on the strength of Cranston’s riveting, heartfelt performance, which has deservedly earned him an Oscar nomination this year.
I’m going with three out of five for Trumbo. It’s a worthy watch.