Richard’s “Canada AM” reviews for the “Rocky” reboot “Creed,” Pixar’s latest child-in-peril movie “The Good Dinosaur,” Daniel Radcliffe as Igor minus-the-hump in “Victor Frankenstein” and Bryan Cranston as black-listed writer Dalton Trumbo in “Trumbo.”
For a brief time Dalton Trumbo was the highest paid writer in Hollywood, which also meant he was the highest paid writer in the world.
He was a family man, a wealthy and proud American communist whose career was sidelined by The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals.
A new film called Trumbo, starring Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, tells the story of how the Academy Award winning screenwriter was reduced to penning scripts for b-movies like The Alien and the Farm Girl.
“Under the first amendment you have the right to free speech and Trumbo felt very strongly about that,” says Cranston.
“He thought it was un-American and unconstitutional for the House Un-American Activities Committee to hold these hearings and demand under threat of contempt of Congress that people answer these questions.
The questions were things like: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? And, if so, to save yourself, renounce it now and tell us who else was a member.
The committee wanted these people to give names so they could go after more people.
“It’s fundamentally wrong and he felt that was wrong and unconstitutional to ask that question,” says Cranston of Trumbo’s reaction.
Trumbo didn’t name names and paid a heavy price, losing his lofty Hollywood perch and almost his family.
“In a way I relate to Trumbo,” says Cranston, but admits he’s not sure what he would do if his career was ever placed in a similar kind of jeopardy.
“What would you do if they subpoenaed you and said, ‘We want to know who else likes baseball? Who is it?’ Would you point the finger at other people who found enjoyment out of playing baseball?
“Of course I would love to think I would be honourable and not do it, but I have to be honest and say, that’s a hypothetical. I think I would be resistant to that pressure and perhaps even pay the price, but do I know for sure? No.
“I don’t know for a certainty because I’m not faced with it.”
After wrapping his five-season career-making run as Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Cranston has kept busy, winning a Tony Award for playing Lyndon B. Johnson on Broadway in All the Way and has eight films in various stages of completion. He made time for Trumbo because “the story itself is brilliant and that is the first thing I look for,” but admits he’s gotten picky about the parts he plays.
“I don’t want to now take a job for money. I take jobs because I’m attracted to them by the creative element or because it challenges me in some way and my agents are incentivized to work out the best deal they can.
“I don’t want to portray this idea that I’m just about the art. I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich and rich is better.”
Dalton Trumbo was an Academy Award nominated screenwriter when his political beliefs saw him drummed out of Hollywood’s inner circles, reducing him to penning scripts for b-movies like “The Alien and the Farm Girl.”
For a brief time he was the highest paid writer in Hollywood, which also meant he was the highest paid writer in the world. He was a family man, a wealthy man and a proud American communist whose career was sidelined by Hollywood conservatives like Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), John Wayne (David James Elliott) and The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. “I love our country,” he says, “and our government is good but couldn’t anything good to be better?”
The film “Trumbo,” starring Bryan Cranston begins as the writer is enjoying the success of his scripts for “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” and “Kitty Foyle.” He’s a committed communist, who, along with a group of Tinsel Town activists like Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) work tirelessly to create unions within the studio system to ensure that everyone, from the grips to the set decorators on up, earn a living wage.
Their socialist leanings didn’t go unnoticed by Congress and by a cadre of concerned actors who think the group’s socialist ways are un-American. When Hopper, using extortion and bigotry, coerces studio head Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow) to fire Trumbo, an industry wide blacklist bans the writer and nine others from working in Hollywood.
With all legal avenues exhausted Trumbo sees his professional and personal worlds crumble as former friends like Robinson stand before Congress and call him “a sinister force.” Punished for his political beliefs, Trumbo makes ends meets by writing screenplays under aliases and creating a script factory staffed by blacklisted writers. After a decade of working in the shadows and winning two Oscars under fake names, he finds two powerful people willing to break the blacklist and put his name where it belongs, on screen.
“Trumbo” is not the story of Senator Joe McCarthy communist witch hunt or a rehash of the Congressional hearings. Instead it is the tale of the times and the personal story of one man who would not allow his civil liberties to be stripped away.
Perhaps its appropriate that a film about the Golden Age of Hollywood—even one that tarnishes the glamour of the period—should feel a little old fashioned. It’s a redemption story, simply told and populated by archetypal characters—Elliott’s John Wayne isn’t a person, for instance, he’s a blustery caricature of The Duke taken directly from the actor’s movie roles—who revolve around Cranston’s flamboyant performance.
The “Breaking Bad” star plays Trumbo as a raging ball of ideology, quick with a quip—in a showdown with John Wayne Trumbo sneers the patriotic actor spent World War II “on a film set shooting blanks and wearing make up.”—and willing to pay the price for his actions. It’s a large cigarette chomping performance of a larger-than-life person.
It takes some time before the rest of the movie catches up with Cranston’s theatrics, but by the time John Goodman, in a hilarious portrayal of a b-movie producer, says, “We bought a gorilla suit and we gotta use it,” the film finds its level.
“Trumbo” is a film with a social conscience with important messages about civil liberties and the importance of freedom of belief, wrapped up in an old-fashioned biopic.