When the House of Representatives and its Un-American Activities Committee went to Hollywood in 1947, a proud, card-carrying member of the Communist Party like screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) had no chance at all. He was especially uncooperative. Question: “Mr. Trumbo, I will ask various questions, all of which can be answered yes or no.” Trumbo: “I shall answer yes or no if I please to. Many questions can only be answered yes or no by a moron or a slave.” Dalton Trumbo also had to fend off some famous Republicans like actor John wayne (David James Elliott who certainly got the voice and the accent) and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren). Trumbo was among the “Hollywood ten” who refused to answer questions, were cited for contempt and spent time in jail. For years they were all blacklisted and could not find work since no studios would hire them. After jail, Trumbo wrote screenplays under pseudonyms, most of them for producer of B films Frank King (John Goodman). He had to feed his family and he wrote so much that he needed the help and support from his wife, Cleo (Diane Lane) and his three children to answer the phones and the door or type and deliver the scripts. During those years, Trumbo won two Oscars, but could not claim them because they were credited under a pseudonym or a front. One of the film is Roman holiday. Trumbo‘s screenplay by John McNamara is far from perfect. Early exposition scenes are contrived, and later ones involving Trumbo’s relationship with his family are corny. I am sorry to say that I found Trumbo works best when it is about Hollywood history than the main character’s personal life. In between, there is enough fun and laughter to wash all that corniness away. This is funny man Louis C.K.’s first try at playing a dramatic part. He is, unfortunately, not very good. But there are still some amazing performances: Dean O’Gorman plays Kirk Douglas, who was not afraid to openly asks Trumbo to write Spartacus, thus ending the decade long blacklist. Christian Berkel as Otto Preminger has a commanding presence and delivers the funniest line in the film. John Goodman has a memorable outburst (Nothing new about that!). But the film belongs to Helen Mirren and Bryan Cranston. Mirren is having so much fun playing bitchy Hedda Hopper. She savours every lines with obvious pleasure as if the words were diamonds. But Mirren’s Hopper is at her most vicious when she is speaking with Trumbo. And what can I say about Bryan Cranston. Watch him as he easily becomes a giant, an icon, a legend before our very eyes. Cranston is brilliant, perfect.
And the nominees are… Cranston was great, but Leonardo DiCaprio got the Oscar for The revenant.
Based on the biography Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Alexander Cook
David James Elliott