Trumbo features the kind of performance that’s remembered long after the film fades away. That it comes from Bryan Cranston, a master of stage and TV who only now is getting a significant shot in film in a leading role provides that much more intrigue.
The reason for that may be that Cranston still carries the aura associated with playing a complicated drug manufacturer and dealer in Breaking Bad. It’s of little matter because he’s given the role of Dalton Trumbo and gives it not only the necessary flourish, but the necessary depth as well. The film opens Wednesday (Nov. 25).
Make no mistake, Trumbo represents a very good effort from director Jay Roach, but Cranston’s performance as the legendary Hollywood screenwriter elevates it just a smidge more to imbue it with that status. It’s a film that is relevant because of the time in which we no live because it reminds viewers that for some reason that remains to be seen, history once again appears to be forgotten.
Trumbo toiled in Hollywood when jingoism and fear ruled the day. The dirty word then wasn’t “Islam” or “Muslim.” “Communism” sent shivers down the spines of cowards, so much so that those in power – assorted members of Congress, but most notably Sen. Joseph McCarthy – declared open war on Communist Party members and the alleged red menace.
Trumbo, a talented and outspoken writer who believed in this country, also happened to be a communist. He and his writer colleagues soon found themselves blacklisted by the studios courtesy of some of the most powerful people in Hollywood at the time. Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), a well-known gossip columnist of her day, used her column to brand people.
Actor John Wayne, the ultimate man’s man and patriot, used his muscle to ensure that the “wrong actors” didn’t work. Studio heads bristled, yet eventually buckled under the pressure when, as portrayed in Trumbo, Hopper implied she would use their Jewish backgrounds against them.
With his livelihood gone, Trumbo fought back for him and his friends. He partnered with a schlock movie maker to get back to work writing films for him under an assumed name so the bills could be paid and he wrote screenplays and gave them to colleagues who hadn’t been blackballed. One of those screenplays, Roman Holiday, won an Academy Award.
Trumbo is that rare film that takes a serious, topical subject and successfully makes it relevant for a modern audience. Screenwriter John McNamara and director Roach take a very serious topic and deal with the issue at hand all while giving the film humorous undertones as Trumbo very publicly, through near financial ruin, a prison stint and the near loss of his family – thumbs his nose at conventional wisdom.
Cranston inhabits the part. Perhaps it’s because he shares some of Trumbo’s ideals, but there is an obvious love and passion for the role. He leads a cast that does stellar work all around from Louis C.K. as a fellow writer to Michael Stuhlbarg.
Cranston will be high on the list of award nominees, but Stuhlbarg, best known for his work on the HBO show Boardwalk Empire, will very easily be a candidate for many for his role as Edward G. Robinson in the film. His portrayal reveals Robinson the man, not the tough guy known for his gangster roles. The situation of the time trapped him between his work and his friends and Stuhlbarg brings the emotions of that and vulnerability to the forefront.
Cranston ultimately makes Trumbo, but it’s certainly a film that deserves consideration for being able to remind us all of history and asking the right questions at the right time.
Director: Jay Roach
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Louis C.K., Helen Mirren, Michael Stuhlbarg
Studio: Bleecker Street
Rated: R for language including some sexual references
Running time: 124 minutes
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com