Helen Mirren (as Hedda Hopper) and Bryan Cranston (as Dalton Trumbo) in “Trumbo.”

November 30, 2015.  I am probably going to get myself in trouble, with some readers, for writing this, but I do not have a problem with those who named names during the MacCarthy era. My problem is with the government, and the cooperating social institutions, who threatened and pressured these people (not to mention ruined lives, in many cases) into testifying against their friends and associates. The new film “Trumbo” takes a detailed look at this period, a time filled with colorful characters, both on the right and wrong sides of history. “Trumbo” has a stellar cast, headed by Bryan Cranston as the larger than life blacklisted screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo.

“Trumbo” brings its story of MacCarthyism and blacklisting, and how this period affected the Hollywood community, to life in a way that I have seen no other film on this subject do. From a sociological point of view “Trumbo” very intelligently and clearly brings out both the macro (the film community’s and the country’s fear of communists) and the micro (how people interacted with each other as a result of the blacklist) aspects of this terrible time.
The film to which “Trumbo” should be compared is director Martin Ritt’s, and screenwriter Walter Bernstein’s, excellent 1976 fictionalized story about the blacklist, “The Front.” As much as I like “The Front,” “Trumbo” takes this story about blacklisting much further. It tells the story of a real person, Trumbo, who interacted with other real, well known people, as opposed to Ritt’s fictionalized, although perfectly legitimate, account in which fictional characters represent real life individuals.
The casting in “Trumbo” really brings the story to life. Helen Mirren takes no prisoners as truly mean, vengeful, blackmailing and spiteful gossip columnist Hedda Hopper who, according to this telling, used her ready media access, and the threat thereof, like a dagger to advance her political objectives.
Among the film’s best known real life characters are actors Edward G. Robinson and John Wayne. Because Wayne and Robinson are two actors who have been imitated numerous times, there is always the danger that portraying them in a serious film could, unintentionally, turn into parodies. “Trumbo” gets it just about right with Wayne, but not so much with Robinson. David James Elliott plays Wayne with the right amount of swagger. He sounds just enough like Wayne to be believable, but smartly holds back from doing an all out Wayne impersonation. Elliott effects the “Duke’s” physical mannerisms, and certainly brings out Wayne’s right wing point of view. Similarly, Michael Stuhlbarg’s Edward G. Robinson stays far away from the “yeah, see,” and way too easy, Robinson gangster imitations done by many comedians, not to mention cartoon characters. At the same time though, Stuhlbarg’s portrayal just does not have enough meat, neither emotionally nor physically, to bring about Robinson. While I give Stuhlbarg credit for not going over the top, I still wish he had at least gotten a little closer to the summit than he does here.
The film has many other notable performances. The always wonderful Diane Lane, portrays Cleo Trumbo, Trumbo’s patient and long suffering wife who strongly supports the family aspect of this story. Dean O’Gorman’s portrayal of Kirk Douglas is authentic both in terms of looks and personality. Comedian Louis CK has a nice turn as a composite character, Arlen Hird, who represents several left leaning screenwriters who were Trumbo associates. It is always interesting to see a comedian take on a serious role and Louis CK does not disappoint.
“Trumbo” is a film to be seen for what it has to say about our past, as well as for what it has to say about our present and future. The film’s point of view about groundless accusations, mob mentality and media manipulation will hopefully remind audiences that, as many have observed over the years, those who forget history will be doomed to repeat it.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on November 30, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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