SYNOPSIS: In the late 1940s, renowned Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and his creative friends are harshly blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee which is spearheaded by actor John Wayne and ruthless gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren). After serving time in prison, Trumbo decides to contribute screenplays under false names with the help of his supportive family which results in him achieving secret success with acclaimed films like Roman Holiday and Spartacus.
Having been associated with renowned comedy films like Austin Powers and Meet the Parents, director Jay Roach delves into more serious material with his daring Hollywood biopic Trumbo.
Despite its dark subject matter, the film does a solid job of blending in occasional moments of humour to keep the audience intrigued particularly when Dalton Trumbo himself is the main focus.
As a biopic, the film captures the 1940s/50s era of Hollywood crisply with the opening scene showing our hero filming a sequence from one of Edward G. Robinson’s classic gangster flicks. However the divide is made clear as we have Trumbo and his colleagues “The Hollywood Ten” standing up for their beliefs only to be christened as traitors and blacklisted by influential figures like John Wayne.
As we all know, that period in American history was dogged by the paranoia surrounding communism which was also effectively focused on in Steven Spielberg’s recent Cold War drama Bridge of Spies. It’s interesting to see the two films delve into the subject especially when the main men from both stories saw their reputations under scrutiny.
However it’s the family side of things that make Dalton Trumbo a man to root for even though there are times when he treats his wife and children like crap. The harsh experience of him having to serve time in prison makes him focus on his writing which inevitably lead to him achieving secret success without getting the full credit he truly deserved. He also gets the opportunity to make amends as demonstrated in a poignant scene where he admits to his teenage daughter that he regrets putting his beliefs before his loved ones.
That particular sequence is one of many masterful moments from Bryan Cranston who continues to prove his capabilities as a versatile actor away from his career-defining work in Breaking Bad. When you see real footage of Trumbo, you realise that Cranston captures the personality to a tee whether it be the mustache or the glasses but at the same time, he is able to portray him as a witty man haunted by the way his life has been tarnished.
The rest of the supporting cast also deliver with Diane Lane and Elle Fanning both exceptional as Trumbo’s supportive wife and rebellious daughter respectfully while John Goodman provides some laughs with his brief role as brass B-Movie producer Frank King. We also see Dame Helen Mirren get the chance to play a bitchy role as she portrays the venomous gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, a woman who played a pivotal role in trying to ruin Trumbo’s career.
Admittedly some casting decisions don’t quite well with comedian actor Louis C.K lacking the pathos of his more experienced co-stars especially when being involved in confrontational scenes with Cranston while pilgrims are bound to be unhappy with David James Elliot’s portrayal of John “The Duke” Wayne. The fact that he lacks both the physical resemblance and the voice makes his appearance somewhat distracting.
The biggest gripe though is the way it treats another Hollywood icon in Edward G Robinson. While the reliable Michael Stuhlbarg gives a clinical role as the conflicted actor, the film harshly makes out that he was heavily involved in condemning the Hollywood Ten which never actually happened in real life. Artistic license gone wrong I’m afraid!
Despite this brief setback, Trumbo is a well-balanced biopic that captures the good and bad of Hollywood successfully and is strengthened by a commanding performance from the brilliant Cranston.