Today was Thanksgiving and the day/night was jammed, but we squeezed in a morning showing of “Trumbo.” Was it worth getting up early? Not really.
The true story of Oscar winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, the movie has a fascinating tale to tell but seems to take forever doing it. We meet Trumbo and his family at their lavish ranch outside Hollywood where he’s the toast of the town, turning out scripts that earn him a lot of money and great acclaim within the industry. But we’re talking about the post-World War II Cold War when anyone even suspected of having Communist leanings was in danger of losing everything. Such is the case with Trumbo, a proud Communist who gets called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and refuses to name names of other Communists in Hollywood. As a result, he’s blacklisted for 13 years – his name removed from his scripts, his only work written under pseudonyms for sympathetic producers, even when his films won Academy Awards (“Roman Holiday,” for example). How he and his family stayed afloat during his purgatory fills the screen for two hours. A lot of it is compelling and some of it feels like a mediocre TV biopic.
Bryan Cranston gives the character everything he has. The real Trumbo was said to be a larger-than-life type and Cranston plays him that way – over-the-top and almost cartoonish. Diane Lane as his wife is given woefully little to do but play his cheerleader and occasional scold. Helen Mirren is terrific as Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnist who’s determined to expose all Communists in Hollywood and make sure they never work again. And John Goodman is blustery fun as the schlock producer who hires Trumbo during his blacklist years.
This is a story that deserves to be known, not only for history’s sake but because it’s very timely in this climate where those who are judged to be “un-American” must be rooted out at all costs. It’s a cautionary tale with implications beyond Hollywood, in other words – a tale of what can happen when “patriotism” runs amok.