Generally, I would like to think of myself as somebody who knows a lot about the ins and outs of the early and golden ages of Hollywood. From the studio systems to the big names, I have my fair share of knowledge on the time period, but something of which I have never known very much about is the detail of the infamous Hollywood Blacklist and and the surrounding film industry Communist witch hunt that took place in the 1950s and 1960s. Lucky for me, then, that one of this Oscar season’s nominated films is a piece of cinema that aims to tell it’s audience all about it from the perspective of one quirkily named man who gives the picture it’s title.
Trumbo is a biopic of American screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), telling the story of his initial success in Hollywood through to his subsequent forced fall from grace and contempt of court prison sentence as a result to his membership in the Communist Party Of The USA during the time of the bitter and suspicious Cold War. I must begin with noting that the film has been criticised by some for a degree of historical inaccuracy and misportrayal, but seeing as I knew nothing from the offset, I can only comment on a cinematic level, with my resounding comment being that Trumbo is a real treat for anybody who has a love for the history of the film business, both the good and the bad. We get to see the life of a man whose name very few have ever heard, but whose contribution to Hollywood was quite literally game changing. With a CV including Oscar winning pictures like Roman Holiday and The Brave One, there is a great deal of anger and frustration towards the political climate of the time as Trumbo’s talents are forced to go personally unrewarded as he is reduced to using pseudonyms to remain working. The narrative follows not only Trumbo but also a number of his fellow black listed peers including Arlen Kird (Louis C.K.) and Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk) as they refuse to cower to the scaremongering, privacy invading American Communist backlash, personified in the film by John Wayne (David James Elliott) and the iconic gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren). Overall, the overarching feel of the picture is an attempt by the filmmakers to show a model audience just how fruitless an exercise the entire period that created the Hollywood Blacklist proved to be, with the heavy majority of the film’s convicted characters continuing to work throughout their blacklisting and in Trump’s case, creating some of the greatest screenwriting of the era. I can, however, begin to see at this point that some choice storytelling has perhaps been made to give the picture a rosier, more triumphant outlook. Though the story of Dalton Trumbo may have been one of great redemption, the fact is that hundreds, if not thousands, of creative geniuses lost their livelihoods and sometimes lives in general due to the modern day witch hunt that was taking place. And although I believe the film has the right to concentrate on a more ultimately positive example, a little more reverence to those who were not so lucky may have given Trumbo a more poignant and affecting edge. This reservation, though, does not take away from the fact that the film overall is a thoroughly enjoyable and loosely educational trip through one of the Hollywood’s many memory lanes, one that feels almost medieval in it’s actions and consequences.
As the titular character Dalton Trumbo, Bryan Cranston gives an outstanding performance. Cranston has hardly touched the breaks since the triumphant conclusion of Breaking Bad, and as Trumbo he gives the kind of performance that makes you wonder what the hell he was doing wasting some of his best years as the dumb dad in Malcolm In The Middle. In both physicality and subconscious energy, Cranston arrests attention whenever he is on screen, and from the brief historical research I did after viewing the film, his take on the real Dalton Trumbo consists of a healthy amount of impersonation whilst still adding his unique craft to create a really memorable and commanding protagonist. Though the physical feats of Leonardo DiCaprio’s turn in The Revenant seem to be most people’s top choice for the Oscar later this month, I have to say that Bryan Cranston has given my favourite leading actor performance out of all five nominees. Our leading man is propped up by a number of great supporting performances from the likes of Louis C.K., Helen Mirren and John Goodman, and though none make the impact that Cranston does, the acting from top to bottom is as stellar as one would expect it to be for a film of this overall calibre.
Overall, Trumbo might certainly be a little revisionist or cherry picking in it’s telling of the Hollywood blacklisting story, but by sacrificing certain information the filmmakers have succeeded in creating a biopic that fits comfortably and satisfyingly in the mould of giving key facts whilst maintaining the all important film narrative edge. Worth a watch for Bryan Cranston’s great performance alone, but certainly an interesting and at times down right shocking look at one of the more bizarre and strange periods in film history.