Director Jay Roach is in the business of thoughtful, satirical political entertainment. His recent films include The Campaign and the HBO movies Recount and Game Change (he also was executive producer on the recently cancelled HBO series, The Brink). It is no surprise then, that he is behind the wheel of Trumbo (opening today) a film that uses its protagonist, black-listed real-life screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), as a vehicle to explore the politics that existed in the late 40s and 50s within Hollywood.
Bryan Cranston is perfect as Dalton Trumbo, striking comedic and dramatic strides without ever missing a step. In 1947, Trumbo, a very successful Hollywood screenwriter, was jailed and black-listed for refusing to testify to Congress regarding allegations that he was a Communist. Trumbo, in fact, was a proud Communist, and while that word had negative connotations up the wazoo, it is not illegal to hold a political belief within the United States of America, despite how many lives were ruined on the mere allegation of Soviet ties.
Like most of Roach’s films, this is a very funny, sharp socio-political film. It actually seems timely, as many in today’s America face persecution for their beliefs, seemingly just a few steps removed from what went on back in the 1950s when McCarthyism reached its height.
The cast is stellar, featuring Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Louis C.K., John Goodman, Elle Fanning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Michael Stuhlbarg and Stephen Root, to name a few. But aside from Cranston – who is Oscar worthy – a lot of the talk will center around the performances of David James Elliott as John Wayne and Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas, who both portray their real-life subjects with uncanny precision.
Both Wayne and Douglas crossed Trumbo’s path as he fought for his beliefs, and the beliefs of several around him. A film where John Wayne is the bad guy? That’s only one fun and surprising sub-plot in Trumbo.
Dalton Trumbo actually went on to pen two Oscar-winning screenplays, using anonymous names to continue working in the business well after he was ran out of town. His is a story of survival, the most unlikely of sorts.
And while all of the celebrity sightings down the stretch seem to take away from the story, Trumbo is just plain good…a dose of history and politics washed down with a laugh. It’s an exploration of black-list era Hollywood, and it makes a case for tolerance.
Genre: Biography, Drama
Run Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Diane Lane, John Getz, Helen Mirren, David James Elliott, David Maldonado
Directed by Jay Roach (The Campaign, Game Change, Meet the Fockers, Meet the Parents, Austin Powers Trilogy)
Opens locally on Friday, Nov 20, 2015 (check for show times).