Hollywood loves to make movies about themselves, even if it means stirring up old, shameful periods of their history. In a previous post, From Caligari to Hitler, I made mention near the end of my review about Hollywood screenwriters being blacklisted if they were suspected of being communists in the late 1940’s and 50’s. Trumbo is about the famous award winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who was forced to work in secret because of his affiliation with the Communist party. Studios would not hire someone with ties to Communism during that time period.
This film stars Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame as the idealistic Trumbo. Directed by Jay Roach, it is rated R for language including some sexual references.
Trumbo refused to testify before the congressional House Un-American Activities Committee resulting in a prison sentence. He was someone who had money, and yet stayed true to what he believed in for the working class. If you have a sandwich, and see someone who has none, do you share? He asks this of his young daughter Niki (Elle Fanning), who comes of age during the civil rights movement in the 60’s, following her conscience and her father’s example, much to the worry of her mother Cleo (Diane Lane).
I cannot reveal too much about this film, as I don’t want to give away the surprises that I was treated to as I watched. Suffice it to say that no writer would relish the thought of not being given credit for what he/she had written, but that’s exactly what happened to Trumbo. Unable to take credit for his work, Academy Awards were given to nonexistent writers instead of to him, who was actually the screenwriter, and customary salary was cut, all because of fear and paranoia. He and others had to fight for the integrity of their personal and professional life. He found work after release from prison writing or fixing screenplays for a low budget B-movie producer, Frank King (John Goodman).
It is chilling to see how manipulative and threatening gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) was, and I don’t doubt the portrayal. She was a bigoted, anti-Semitic witch. She wielded influence over Hollywood executives who covered their assets and profits, and left others to suffer.
It was not a pretty time for America, these years of censorship and denying the right to the first amendment. We see other well known celebrities who played pivotal real life roles in this time period: Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman), John Wayne (David James Elliott), Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) occupying two sides of the spectrum. Who will they be loyal to?
Bryan Cranston was nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his portrayal of Trumbo and I can see why. This is an excellent film and entertains while it enlightens about the heroes like Trumbo who stayed true to his ideals even under harsh persecution. A great film for anyone who appreciates good storytelling and real life drama.