Most countries have dark parts in their history, and America is no exception. Did you know for example that eugenics was actively practiced in the US during the 1920’s and 30’s? Not going as far as the gas chambers of Nazi Germany, but getting pretty close in some institutions where “imbeciles and defectives” were allegedly quietly euthanased or forcibly sterilised to cleanse the gene pool.
Another equally dark period of history were the McCarthy witch hunts in the post WW2 period, and that is the topic that “Trumbo” focuses on.
In a true story, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was a successful Hollywood screenwriter (including “Roman Holiday”, “Exodus” and “Spartacus”) who was also a communist. Together with nine other colleagues, this “Hollywood Ten” collectively decide to take a First Amendment stand against the questioning, under subpoena, of the ‘House Committee on Un-American Activities’. This lack of cooperation gets them black-listed from working in Hollywood, which removes their livelihoods.
Stoking the fire is bile-filled journalist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirran), trying her best at every opportunity to subvert their own subversion of working around the blacklisting.
The film is a fascinating insight into a period of movie history I knew nothing about. Famous actors such as John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Edward G Robinson and Kirk Douglas pop up on different sides of the fence, sometimes as impersonations (the best one being Dean O’Gorman’s uncanny impersonation of Kirk Douglas) and sometimes from original stock footage.
Cranston was Oscar nominated for the role of Trumbo, and he is very good indeed as the larger than life character. But there are a number of other very compelling performances worthy of note: Michael Stuhlbarg (“A Serious Man”) is great as the conflicted Edward G Robinson; and Elle Fanning (“Super 8”), younger sister of Dakota, is once again fantastic as Trumbo’s eldest daughter – having more to put up with than just the teenage hormones.
Overall though, while it is an educational piece, the film is rather stodgy in places and lacks passion for its subject. The only point for me when the film reached its dramatic potential was the angry bathroom scene between Cranston and Fanning. Rather disappointing, given my expectations.
Fad Rating: FFF.