The Hollywood Ten and the days where hundreds of blacklisted writers, actors and like hovers like a dark cloud that follows the film industry around, and yet not many people know a good deal about it. After World War II and the deterioration of U.S. relations with Russia, anyone registered as a member of the communist party, or friendly with someone who was, made them an immediate target for suspicion in a world where mass paranoia reigned supreme. Jay Roach’s Trumbo is about this time period, but is less a politically-charged film and far more about the right to free speech and the difficulties Trumbo and others on the blacklist had to face.
Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is at the height of his career in 1947. A prolific and highly talented screenwriter, Trumbo has just signed a three year contract with a big studio and is all set to be bringing in a steady income and write great scripts. All that comes to a crashing halt when Trumbo and nine others, dubbed the “Hollywood Ten,” are found in contempt of Congress and guilty of communism under the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC).
Former actress and gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), is adamant that every communist sympathizer in Hollywood should be punished and is against Trumbo and several others, as the list, known as “The Blacklist,” grows in numbers through the ’60s. Trumbo, along with his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and his children, namely eldest daughter Nikki (Elle Fanning), must find a way to carry on through this ordeal and hope that they can come out of it intact.
Director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents) makes sure to never let his movie sway politically, and it is more so about the very basic right of free speech and expression. The script by John McNamara, based on the book by Bruce Cook, strikes the right balance between serious and darkly funny. Trumbo is not painted in an angelic light, but is rather shown from all sides; whether it’s Trumbo the writer or Trumbo the husband and father, McNamara gives you the legend and the man. Roach presents aspects of Hollywood’s golden age but takes you behind-the-scenes of the glamour, from the studio meetings, to the icy and tension-filled conversations between colleagues and former friends, Trumbo highlights what is considered a classic era of film history with a serious topic, but not one without hope.
Bryan Cranston does a wonderful job breathing life into Trumbo. He is firm, grouchy when it comes to being bothered while working, and loving and loyal to his family and friends. He’s a character that anyone can relate to on some level and you can’t help but rally with him as he fights for his job and reputation. Diane Lane is nothing but classy in her portrayal as Trumbo’s wife, Cleo. She embodies strength and patience while enduring the hardships that befall her family.
Helen Mirren finds her more villainous side in Hedda Hopper, who will stop at nothing to take Trumbo down. She is the epitome of the charismatic, but annoying character you love to hate and she nails Hopper’s tone and underlying hatred in every scene. Elle Fanning, Alan Tudyk and John Goodman, among others, provide fantastic support throughout the film, Goodman especially funny as the always irate studio executive, Frank King.
Trumbo doesn’t dwell on any one scene or event and moves at a swift pace. It isn’t cluttered with big showdowns or contrived drama, but is rather a deeper look into a period of time that finds similarities and parallels to several events in human history, including today. One of the only real issues in the film is that Trumbo’s friends take a back seat in the second half of the film and aren’t given enough attention even though they went through a rough patch right along with Trumbo. Ultimately, however, Trumbo is a film worth seeing, with an especially strong performance by Cranston that solidifies his great actor status even more.