By Megan Bianco
One period of history that seems to always be fascinating is the unfortunate time in the mid-20th century when the House Un-American Activities Committee blacklisted hundreds of Americans for joining the Communist Party or refusing to testify about related accusations. Many were actors, writers and directors from Hollywood, including sought=after screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. This fall he’s portrayed by popular character actor Bryan Cranston in Jay Roach’s latest political biopic titled simply “Trumbo.” Even with a plot, collaboration and trailer that scream ‘Oscar bait,’ the film still manages to be interesting and decent.
From 1947 to 1970, Trumbo (Cranston) is judged, ridiculed and tried for his support of communism. But he loses jobs, is put on trial, makes bad press, is arrested and even puts his family in danger just for speaking his mind. He makes friends with movie star Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) and enemies with John Wayne (David James Elliott). His wife, Cleo (Diane Lane) supports him the whole way, and his oldest child Nicki (Madison Wolfe and Elle Fanning) idolizes him, yet is irritated with his growing lack of empathy for his family.
Helen Mirren plays infamous gossip writer Hedda Hopper, and Louis C.K., Alan Tudyk and John Goodman play Trumbo’s fellow radicals. To see Roach go from directing comedies like “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents” to political commentary like “Recount” (2008) and “Game Change” (2012) continues to be admirable and impressive. “Trumbo“ is the farthest he’s gone back in history on screen and it does feel like we are in 1950s Hollywood where a line is drawn between liberals like Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Lucille Ball, and conservatives like Ronald Reagan, Robert Taylor and Gary Cooper. Even if you have no interest in or idea about this period of history, it’s fascinating to see such famous names as Hopper, Robinson, Wayne, L.B. Mayer and Otto Preminger in the same room.
Cranston is the perfect choice for the lead because he is recognizable yet can still easily slip into various characters without his public image breaking the viewer’s perception as might happen with the average star. We can see a respected and intimidating writer of hits like “Roman Holiday“ (1953) and “Spartacus“ (1960) who also has to hide and use aliases to keep employed. Mirren is fun as the flamboyant gossip journalist, and Elliott intriguingly captures Wayne’s essence through mannerisms. Fanning has the difficult task of playing a character who starts out her own teen age and becomes almost 30 by the end of the movie, and she does it finely and fluidly.
There are a few problems with “Trumbo;” Stuhlbarg looks and sounds nothing like Robinson, and the Hopper character’s development is confusing. But all-in-all, for a movie that could have easily been a lot more predictable, it’s worth checking out by both film trivia buffs and American history fans.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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