This is the true story of the brave blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston). In 1947, the enigmatic, passionate, talented and well-off screenwriter is a Communist Party member who speaks up for the rights of the workers. This attracts the disdainful attention of patriotic American, NRA member and film actor John Wayne (David James Elliot), as well as gossip journalist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren). More frightening for Trumbo, when the witch hunt for Hollywood’s Communists begin, he’s jailed for abstaining to name names. On his release from prison, the writer finds himself blacklisted on the Hollywood 10 and has to work under a false name due to nobody wanting to hire him for being a communist. This is a fast paced true story of the writer of Spartacus (1960) who paid a heavy price for standing up for his beliefs and for free speech.
They say history is written by the victors. If that be the case, then this gives Trumbo the last laugh at the Hollywood big shots and the institution that blacklisted him in the first place. This is a period-Cold War movie that satirizes politics with a serious undertone too. This is the biopic of one of the greatest writers to ever live. He stood up to a system that disregards free speech unless that speech is what they want to hear. He stood up for the people and didn’t let his voice become a whisper. His voice was a bellow, and that frightened the establishment. People began to stand up and think for themselves rather than taking what the media says as gospel. This is the latest in a string of politically themed movies that I’ve watched in 2015/16 including: Steve Jobs, Spotlight and The Big Short.
Trumbo is a first class writer who follows the cultural convention of writers being weird and quirky. Trumbo did a lot of his best work butt ass nude in the bathtub with a glass of scotch in one hand and a smoke in the other, with typewriter in front of him. I’m surprised his skin didn’t begin to look a lot like a cabbage due to his extended bathtime activities or ‘pruning’, as we like to call it in the UK. Dalton was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party and he didn’t care who knew he was a communist. He thought that he had the right to his own ideologies. What gives people the right to judge him morally, ethically and lawfully on his political views? He was very unshy about his view and why shouldn’t he be passionate about his beliefs?
Trumbo grabs the attention of Helen Mirren’s Hopper when he’s seen being ‘Un-American’ in public. Her idea of being a good American patriot is stamping out Communism from arts and entertainment like an ant with a boot. She is on a relentless crusade to brush out the communist manifestation out of the industry and the system. She thinks that communists are cancers in the system. The anatomy is the system and she’s the surgeon. Her goal is to get them all banned from the system. America and the West have, and will always be, for the foreseeable future, a place that loves and worships capitalism. Anything that isn’t capitalist is considered bad thus we had the Hollywood 10. They weren’t anti-capitalist (they work in Hollywood) but they thought things could be done better. They saw flaws in the system and nothing is perfect, like things being done for worker’s rights.
Despite being banned from Hollywood, Trumbo and his blacklisted friends carry on writing, under false names. They write quality scripts for Frank King (John Goodman) for very little money. It’s very insulting if I am honest. These scenes are the most entertaining, especially when Goodman takes a swing at someone with a golfclub for coming into his office to forcefully tell him to fire Dalton Trumbo. This Trumbo fella is starting to piss a lot of people off. He’s resisting and those in power hate people who resist, they like people who conform and fall in line with the rest. Then he wrote Spartacus and that was a whole new ballgame.
This is a movie about politics and ideologies. But also right and wrong. Sometimes, we can’t tell the difference because our perceptions of both are all relative to each person. Hollywood began telling people how to think, what to write, who to vote for. The fabrics of people’s identities were being downgraded by this institution and many didn’t like that. It’s also a movie about relationships and how those relationships are put to the test when Trumbo goes to prison and life after prison. Diane Lane (Man Of Steel) plays Cleo Trumbo. She gives a good performance and has a good rapport with Cranston onscreen.
Cranston gives an excellent performance as Dalton Trumbo. He’s very engaging yet passionate, exciting and gritty as well. There were times you wanted to hate him and others when you wanted to love him. You want to hate him when he treats his family like his personal servants due to the intense pressure he was under and his stress levels were through the roof. He was writing on his daughter’s birthday and he wouldn’t take a break to see her blow out her candles.
It’s little things like that which really irritated me. Moments of humanity but also times when he should be intimate with his family are the times when he simply does not care about anyone or anything apart from him and his script. And yes, he’s doing all of this locked in the bathroom inside the bathtub. One of the best moments of the movie was when Trumbo gives John Wayne a little lesson about World War Two. He put him in his place. This is one of those moments where you want to shake Trumbo’s hand rather than slap him in the face.
“If you’re gonna talk about World War II as if you personally won it, let’s be clear where you were stationed – on a film set, shooting blanks, wearing makeup, and if you’re going to hit me, I’d like to take off my glasses.”
Dalton Trumbo Challenging John Wayne
In the Cold War, communism was seen as a credible threat. Figures like Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover were paraded as heroes but now in the 21st century, they are depicted as the bullyish characters they are. This suggests that such a blatant violation of human and civil rights could never occur again yet we still see a variation of this through the treatment of homosexuals and transsexuals. But also the treatment of people of god, priests. We see them as these righteous figures, pillars of our community yet look at the events of Spotlight. People like that seem to be as untouchable as the powerful players in Trumbo.
In conclusion, a very good political biopic backed up by strong performances from Helen Mirren (The Queen) and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) but also Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire) and John Goodman (Argo) with smaller roles from Dean O’Gorman (The Hobbit Trilogy) as Kirk Douglas and Louis C.K (Blue Jasmine) as Arlen Hird and Richard Portnow (Hitchcock) as Louis B. Mayer. The film itself may be a little slow for some people but I thoroughly enjoyed it. This movie can be very basic at times, but is that a bad thing? This movie shows how fragile our system is and how easily this house of cards can fall. Democracy is on a knife-edge and all it takes is a little push.