Through a thick haze of cigarette smoke and a flare of the Cold War era 50’s, Trumbo is a jump into a time of irrational behavior and the fears of Communism throughout our country. Dalton Trumbo (Cranston) is a charismatic, bath loving screenwriter with an opinion his peers prefer never to share and even though he means no harm, Trumbo and countless others accused of being spies and agents of communism are blacklisted by the courts that find them harmful and detrimental to the America way. With a career film role for Cranston, he transforms into the obsessive father-writer-communist we never knew we wanted to see on screen.
The genesis of the film immediately brings us to a world of type writers and chain smoking and excessive drinking all through the melodic jazz tunes reminiscent of the 40’s and 50’s and the imaginations that had a chance to be released onto the silver screens. Sadly, the richness of this man’s life aren’t explored as deeply as they could of gone and irony takes over with the film being about a screenwriter and having a less than exceptional screenplay. Missed opportunities to take on the hypocritical nature of an old America were not fully realized outside of a quite a few witty moments between Trumbo and his peers. You are treated to a character who we technically aren’t suppose to like due to his political preferences, but he changed the film industry forever with some of the greatest films ever written by him alone.
Cranston and company are some of the more inspired and well cast crews we’ve seen in some time. Any time a film about Hollywood comes out of Hollywood, the fear is that the actors portraying actors become a mockery of former actors and film related talents. With a cast that includes a hilarious Louis C.K., Helen Mirren, a classic John Goodman, and who I consider the real hero of the story Diane Lane, you are in for something worth watching. Lane portrays the forever loyal wife of Trumbo and the glue that holds her family together through times of segregation from the American world while allowing her family to never shatter under the lifestyle of a social pariah. With a stellar Helen Mirren taking on somewhat of a villain role in this film as real life “super-patriot” and journalist Hedda Hopper, you are thrown around her roulette of spinning emotions as she attempts to destroy all things “Red” even if it includes everyone in the film industry breathing the same air as Dalton Trumbo.
Though she eventually becomes somewhat of an antagonist, the struggles of the film come from the script being unsure of itself. Witty and smartly tempered, the film provides a friendly and semi-realistic tone of the era and what the characters went through, but overall is not sure if it wants to be a biopic or something like Selma where it focuses on one specific span of time in history. The beginning is the most inconsistent act of the story with the next two acts thankfully figuring itself out later on, but with such an unsure sense of direction for the first twenty minutes the film leaps from scene to scene hoping that we don’t care about the moments that bring us to what is later the meat and potatoes of the story. Nonetheless, we get to see some fine acting and some clever visual aids to jump us through the years Trumbo attempts to write his scripts secretly in a bathtub alongside his typewriter, a glass of Scotch, and a constantly lit cigarette. Through that deadly combination, we see the ups and downs of a writer who brought us some of the most iconic stories in cinema history such as Roman Holiday, The Brave One, and of course Spartacus.
The portrayals of some of the iconic film legends you see in the film is uncanny and kinetically amusing. What could have been a poorly done Saturday Night Live skit instead turns into a glimpse of film history through a film of the present. Showing the pull and tug of Trumbo’s skill-set and Swiss-army knife opinions, people rally behind him as well as stalk his every move waiting for him to slip up or be revealed. One of the saving graces for Trumbo is the whoring of his talents by Frank King portrayed by the always amazing John Goodman. As a burly film producer with a love for “(female sex organs) and money” Goodman’s Frank King becomes a scene stealer for the few moments he enters the screen becoming the voice we all want to hear in this era of inconsistency is doing what’s right and what doesn’t matter.
The film starts off like tea kettle that’s been boiling too long, feeling erratic with too much going on to feel entertained, but comes down to a simmer with a lukewarm feeling to it that we can comfortably sit back and enjoy. It’s performances are some of the better this year with a talented and inspired ensemble of character actors. Cranston acts his ass off in this film and makes you forget he is the man behind these ridiculously smooth looking mustaches and delivers with every monologue and every action from the subtle to the brash. With a dry spot here and there, the film still holds up as an entertaining look into the highs and lows of one of the most important screenwriters in history as well as American history itself.