Review by Robert T. Trate
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Michael Stuhlbarg, David James Elliott, Louis C.K., John Goodman, Elle Fanning, Stephen Root
Directed by: Jay Roach
Running time: 124 minutes
Year of release: 2015
For this critic, there is nothing better than a movie about the making of movies. I am not talking about documentaries. Too often, these are just marketing tools that today are split up on YouTube and then sold to the audience on an overpriced Blu-ray. What I am talking about are movies that tell the story of how actors, directors, and writers came to be a part of the business. In loving movies the way I do, I enjoy learning about what went on behind the scenes. If you study cinema or even just read a book about the history of Hollywood, you cannot miss the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) trials. HUAC trials were basically a witch hunt in Hollywood that went after prominent figures with the intention of making sure that Communists were not rooting themselves in our culture. Artists, directors, writers, and the like were asked to name names of people who were either communists or sympathetic to the communist party. Many who were questioned did not answer or refused to give up anyone other than themselves. They were then blacklisted by Hollywood, because they were seen as a threat to what basically came down to earning more money. This is where the film Trumbo takes place.
Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was a prominent Hollywood screenwriter. He refuses to answer any questions about himself or anyone else, because he believes, as an American, he has that right. Trumbo is held in contempt of congress, which is the only crime he ever commits, despite not actually committing any crime. Jay Roach, the director of both the Austin Powers Trilogy and Meet the Parents, crafts an incredible film here that highlights not only what the blacklisted writers did to survive, but what Trumbo’s family had to endure.
For film enthusiasts both new and old, you receive an incredible look into Hollywood of that era. In most respects, you wonder how and why the United States government could round up people and starting asking them their political beliefs. The reason why you ask that question is because of what Dalton Trumbo and many others who fought for our rights did. You will wonder how people could mistreat so many big name actors of the day, when today our Hollywood stars are basically gods that walk the Earth. Imagine the likes of Tom Hanks or Johnny Depp on trial for their political beliefs. It wouldn’t happen today. Why? Because there is money to be made, just as there was back then, and Trumbo uses that angle to keep working, keep his family fed, all the while keeping his name out of the credits. The kicker to this tale is what happens when one of his movies wins Hollywood’s highest honor. Oh, and then what happens when he wins it again?
Trumbo is an incredible picture that I am sure will populate film classes for decades to come. Not only does it highlight a dark time in Hollywood, but it also reveals those individuals that did all they could to survive it. Does the film make us think less of the likes of John Wayne (played here by David James Elliott) and Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg)? It does, a little, but it was a different time and people had different ideals and means to survive. It does, however, create new heroes and idols such as Dalton Trumbo, Ian McLellan Hunter (played by Alan Tudyk), and The King Brothers (John Goodman and Stephen Root).
In closing, I would like to highlight a few other films and one book that you will want to check out after seeing Trumbo. As for the films, I recommend The Front (1976) starring Woody Allen who fronts for blacklisted writers so that he and they came make money. The next is Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun (1971). The film is based on his novel and is possibly the greatest anti-war story ever told. As for the book, which ties directly to the film Trumbo, I suggest “I Am Spartacus!: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist”. The book is written by Kirk Douglass and is his side of how he got Trumbo to write the screenplay for Spartacus.
BLU-RAY and DVD BONUS FEATURES:
Who is Trumbo?
Bryan Cranston Becomes Trumbo