Review by Lauryn Angel
Jay Roach’s biopic Trumbo is purportedly based on Bruce Cook’s biography, but John McNamara’s screenplay widens the focus, giving Trumbo’s antagonists, including John Wayne (David James Elliot) and Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), almost as much time as the man himself. Likewise, other members of the Hollywood Ten who were blacklisted alongside Trumbo are developed more than in the book, namely Arlenn Hird (Louis C.K.) and Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk). And while Bruce Cook’s book does discuss Dalton Trumbo’s life in detail, it leaves out some of the strife between Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and his oldest daughter, Niki (Elle Fanning). The result is a film that presents Trumbo as admirable, yet flawed – not the saint that Cook paints him to be.
Dalton Trumbo was a Hollywood screenwriter and a member of the Communist Party. His politics made him a target for many in Hollywood, but Trumbo takes his persecution – mostly name-calling and the occasional beverage being thrown in his face – in stride. When his daughter Niki asks him about Communism, he explains that being a Communist simply means that he wants everyone to be equal. However, Trumbo does not exactly seem to be practicing what he preaches, as Arlen Hird observes: “You talk like a radical, but you live like a rich guy.” Trumbo’s politics are put to the test when he is summoned to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and eventually sentenced to a year in prison for contempt of Congress, along with Hird and eight other men, collectively known as the Hollywood Ten. The film mostly focuses on the persecution these men face when released from prison, and their fight against the Hollywood Blacklist.
Cranston is simply fantastic as Dalton Trumbo, and he is surrounded by a dazzling supporting cast. Mirren, Tudyk, and Louis C.K. are joined by Diane Lane as Trumbo’s long-suffering wife Cleo, and Stephen Root and John Goodman as the King brothers – owners of the only studio that would employ Trumbo and his cohorts during the Blacklist.
While the movie is entertaining, it glosses over a lot of the details. For those who know relatively little about the Hollywood Ten or the HUAC blacklist, the movie is a basic primer, which may generate these viewers in Trumbo’s screenplays for some of Hollywood’s classics, such as Roman Holiday and Spartacus. The issue at the core of the film – freedom of speech and freedom of ideas and expression – is an issue that remains relevant today.
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