Trumbo, rated R
This movie tells the story of Dalton Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston, and this week nominated for Best Actor for the role by the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild), a very successful screenwriter in Hollywood. He joined the Communist party in 1943, when the United States and Soviet Union were allies. Being a member of the Communist party was not illegal. We don’t see any of his Communist activities or beliefs, except for a short scene in which he explains what a Communist is to his young daughter.
Trumbo was one of the “Hollywood Ten”, mostly screenwriters, who were accused of being Communists and refused to cooperate before the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in 1947. They were charged with contempt of Congress and sent to prison, where Trumbo served for eleven months.
Hollywood studio chiefs then blacklisted the Hollywood Ten, making it impossible for them to get work. As a result, Trumbo wrote and re-wrote scripts (under fake names) of B-grade films for the King Brothers, played by John Goodman and Stephen Root. Trumbo ends up getting enough work that he brings in the rest of the Hollywood Ten to do this work, including Arlen Hird (a fictionalized character played well by Louis C.K.). Trumbo also writes two serious screenplays during this time (one under another writer’s name and one under a fake name) which would go on to win Oscars for Roman Holiday and The Brave One.
Trumbo is at the center of this film. He always looks tired, is a workaholic, smoking, drinking and popping pills while two-finger typing at his desk typewriter or working on scripts while soaking in the bathtub. He pretty much ignores his wife (Oscar nominee Diane Lane), son and young daughters, the oldest named Niki was played by Elle Fanning.
On the other side of the Hollywood political landscape are John Wayne (David James Elliott) as head of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (played by Helen Mirren, four time Oscar nominee and winner of Best Actress for The Queen. She has also received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in this film).
Michael Stuhlbarg portrays Edward G. Robinson. The film inaccurately shows him betraying his friends by naming them to the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) later reach out to Trumbo for assistance on their projects, Spartacus and Exodus, respectfully. We see President Kennedy giving credibility to Spartacus at the same time that Hopper and her cohorts were trying to get people to boycott the film because of Trumbo’s involvement.
The film is directed by Jay Roach, who also directed the Meet the Parents and Austin Powers comedies. It is written by John McNamara.
I found the story interesting, having read about the Communist influence in Hollywood recently in the Bill O’Reilly/Martin Dugard book Killing Reagan. It was amazing to see how they seamlessly blended the old news footage with the current day actors. The film is rated R for a significant amount of adult language, some sexual references, and one scene of male nudity (as Dalton is being checked into prison). It features a strong cast, and one of the best acting performances of the year with Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo. Like many films we’ve seen recently it was overly long at 124 minutes.