Hollywood films about Hollywood can sometimes be a bit of an incestuous luvvie-fest.
But not so this movie, for Dalton Trumbo (a brilliant Bryan Cranston) was the ‘Commie’ screenwriter who found out who his true friends were during America’s first round of Communist witch-hunts. Not only did he stay true to his principles and take on the system but also won Oscars while still being blacklisted.
In 1947, Trumbo, along with a group of left-leaning writing buddies, was churning out screenplays in order to keep the big studios turning over hit after hit. However, no-one did it quite like Trumbo – sat in the bath with his typewriter, glass of whisky and fag clamped between his teeth, Trumbo’s scripts were box office gold.
But not everyone was a fan; with Russia becoming enemy number one, America caught ‘Reds under the bed’ fever and soon Trumbo and his cohort were hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee. They didn’t think they had anything to answer for but still ended up in jail and banned from writing – a state of affairs ultra-right-wing gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren in great hats) heartily agreed with. But, with most of its best writers on the blacklist, what was Hollywood to do when in need of new material?
In fact, in order to make ends meet when out of jail, Trumbo and his colleagues carried on writing, just under pseudonyms. To begin with, they bashed out B movies for Frank King (John Goodman), a larger-than-life character who couldn’t give a damn about their politics, as long as their scripts put bums on seats. Gradually, other players higher up in Hollywood came to call, including Otto Preminger (Christian Bubel) and none other than Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman), working on a movie called Spartacus and wanting the best of the best to sprinkle his literary magic over the project.
It’s a riches-to rags-to riches story that shows this extraordinary man warts and all. Trumbo was so obsessed with his writing his wife (Diane Lane) and children always had to play second fiddle. And Cranston fleshes out Trumbo to a remarkable degree; by turns charming and generous, then fiery-tempered and sarcastic. It’s all gloriously un-PC; everybody smokes like troopers, they all drink like fish and so-called best buddies are suddenly pointing the finger and selling eachother out.
As a snapshot into this most interesting of Hollywood times, it’s a real eye-opener. It’s also highly entertaining and beautifully written by John McNamara (as well it should be). If you’re unfamiliar with the name Dalton Trumbo go see this movie – you’ll know him a darn sight better by the end.