Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was a Hollywood screenplay writer of the highest order. He was also a known communist. Not a radical but a communist. However all the great things that he did through his writings and imagination accounted for nothing when his political views and not his emancipating work became the parameter on which he was judged. He along with nine other Hollywood regulars was blacklisted to start with. The list grew considerably with passing years and after Trumbo refused to answer in a blatant “Yes” or “No” to the questions raised by congress, he invited the wrath of the Government. The matter got so out of hand that he landed up in jail for years.
Once out of jail, he was forced to write under pseudonyms and couldn’t find a footing in Hollywood. He was given a new lease of life by Frank King and his production company who gave him constant work. In Frank’s production house the emphasis was on quantity and not quality. Trumbo still thrived. Soon his works got international acclaim. He won atleast two Oscars with works that he credited to other names. Then came the big change when film makers like Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger not only gave him work but also put his name on the screen. His detractors were still hot on his heel. The toughest of the lot was Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) who made it an almost personal vendetta to see him go down. However, Trumbo made his way through any and every hardship that his beliefs could bring forth for him and he didn’t let go until he won.
Trumbo is a powerful picture about a man whose tale is as heroic as it is entertaining. Turning a blind eye to the cinematic liberties that must have been taken, Trumbo still works beautifully and remains true to the story and the time. It’s a character driven film and a lot depended on the man who was playing the titular character. Bryan Cranston is a man who has the range and the guiles to carry a character like Trumbo confidently. He is funny, he is rigid and he is erratic when he has to be. There is a scene towards the end when he is working on a script when his daughter requests him to join the family as they are cutting her birthday cake. His reactions and the way he treats her will come as a jolt for many.
The scene where he makes up with his daughter is another beautifully structured sequence that is essayed with ease and perfection by Cranston. The film is laid out over a long period of time. As the story progresses we see the characters aging and nobody as noticeably as Trumbo himself. His transitions are wonderfully rendered and they have a sense of astute believability to them. What really comes as a shock to you is the calm manner in which he goes about his work. Even after being wronged so horribly he doesn’t go after any vendetta but instead goes after the blacklist which he truly considers to be that stepping stone which would guide him and the other men to their retribution.
The film’s art design and cinematography are great. The Art department has been able to successfully recreate the era with great attention paid to details. Be it the cars, the architecture or even the interiors of the houses, the art design remains spot on. The music is also in strong keeping with the time and era and does exceedingly well not to miss the drift. The casting of the film though is somewhat uneven. Even though the primary characters are all spot on, some of the smaller roles leave a lot to be desired. David James Elliott plays John Wayne and it was the coup de grace as far I was concerned. On the contrary, Dean O’Gorman playing Kirk Douglas was just fine. They even re-shot scenes of Spartacus in black and white with Dean’s face on them and had them edited in with that of the ensemble cast of Spartacus in the few scenes that are shown as footage from the movie. Helen Mirren was perfectly hateable as Hedda Hopper. Christian Berkel as Otto Preminger is great. The ever dependable Diane Lane plays Trumbo’s wife and his pillar of strength with great conviction.
The film was entertaining. I keep getting back to this point for a variety of reasons. To start with I believe that the primary task of every movie is to entertain in its own way. Thus if a film is not entertaining it is failing in its primary objective. Also if a film is not entertaining it will certainly fail to drive in the plot on which it is based and will thus be forgotten as will the story with it. Thirdly I find it impossible to connect with lectures and its one of the worst ideas to lecture through cinema. Thankfully, Trumbo is neither lecture nor is it too plot heavy. On the contrary it is brisk and uncomplicated. It has a linear story-line and it is pulled ahead by a man who knows what he is doing. It entertains and enlightens at the same time.
I hadn’t heard of this film until very late and now after having watched it, I can’t help but feel that the titular role could have Cranston in the running for the best actor Oscar. He does everything right in this film and the end speech that he gives is in keeping with some of the best one off speech performances that I have seen over the years. Putting it all together, we could have an Oscar winner if he is not piped by Eddie Redmayne who has outdone himself yet again as Lily in The Danish Girl.