Trumbo tells the story of Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten who was put to prison for defying the House of Un-American Activities Committee and placed on the blacklist. McCarthyism was a dark period for Hollywood, a time of paranoia and fear that saw many lives ruined, and whilst there have been countless cinematic adaptions of the period, Trumbo still feels like an important story to tell.
Jay Roach, probably best known for the Austin Powers movies, is confident in his direction.Aesthetically, the film has a gloss associated with the nostalgia of old Hollywood only to pull the rug as the narrative means the veneer gives way to the darkness beneath. Pair the polished visuals with a jazzy score and Trumbo is a treat for both the eyes and the ears.
Cranston is nothing short of magnificent as Trumbo, perfectly embodying the spirit of the man who’s stubborn nature was both greatest strength and weakness. He anchors the entire film, keeping it strong through its wobblier moments. Particular highlights include a bittersweet speech and a magnificent display of the artistic process.
The supporting cast are a mixed bag, though John Goodman almost steals the show as B-movie producer Frank King, who perfectly conveys the more satirical and amusing moments. Helen Mirren almost threatens to go into pantomime villain area with her take on gossip columnist and HUAC-advocate Hedda Hopper, but it’s still fun to see her take on a bitchy role.
Diane Lane is understated but strong as Cleo, Trumbo’s long suffering wife who, along with his children, has to deal with the reality of the blacklist, but also of Trumbo’s own stubborn idealism. Elle Fanning also brings a lot to what could have been a shallow background role as daughter Niki.
The film doesn’t work all the time – sometimes it feels like the glossy exterior is also masking some of the real horrors of the era. We see the impact on Trumbo’s family, but it feels isolated and it can be hard to forget that the blacklist impacted thousands. Louis C.K’s character can also be a distraction – whilst his deadpan deliveries are funny, his style is so associated with his stand-up that it can take you out of the film.
Trumbo is a good film that uses a comedic touch to tell a very serious story and with Cranston’s Oscar-worthy performance providing the beating heart, it is perpetually on the edge of greatness.