TRUMBO Review - Magnificent, Inspired, Four Stars

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TRUMBO, from Groundswell Productions and Bleecker Street Media, presents the story of blacklisted Hollywood Ten writer Dalton Trumbo bringing to life the dark season in the Golden Era of Hollywood when the world divided between good Americans and communists.


Directed by Jay Roach, TRUMBO stars Bryan Cranstan, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, John Goodman, Louis C.K., Michael Stuhlbarg, Elle Fanning, David James Elliot, John Getz, Stephen Root, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Dean O'Gorman as Kirk Douglas, Alan Tudyk as Ian McLellen Hunter and Christian Berkel as Otto Preminger. TRUMBO was written for the screen by John McNamara based on the book of the same name by John Cook.

TRUMBO begins on the set with Edward G. Robinson, played in a masterful performance, by Michael Stuhlbarg, coming out of the foggy shadows delivering the poignant, pivotal line, when the prop gun falls to the floor, everyone laughs, and he remarks how appropriate that this would occur today when the esteemed Dalton Trumbo, embodied by Bryan Cranston, was among us.

To which, the Director Sam Wood, played by John Getz, remarks 'Well he's sure not one us" and the scene is set.

The dark, black, clouds of division are no longer swirling they have arrived. Hollywood was about to be cast into a dark pit, where fear, incapacitating and killing fear, fear of the unknown, fear, deep seeded, fear of those afraid of power, of losing the most precious thing, of a people so intent on destruction, of finding the Achilles heel and drilling, until either the bit broke or the people did.

Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood's top screenwriter as the montage reveals during the opening sequences, hit after hit, the go to man, even if the script was bad his re-writes were golden.

A man of passion, who spoke using his expansive language skills to deliver crucial statements and sentiments with authority of one who as is said to him later by Arlen Hird, played by Louis C.K. "why do you have to say everything like it's going to be chiseled into a rock."

The authority, drive, a man of passions, who saw the future before it arrived. He somehow knew, or at least he thought he knew the extent to which the government would go, of course, they would testify and yes, he had joined the communist party.

The political structure in America at the time didn't allow citizens to freely exercise the right to think independently so therefore, democrats or republicans only please.

These scenes are played out as the ten writers who would eventually become known as the Hollywood Ten would meet at various locations, his home, Robinson's home, not secretly in the shadows, openly believing the government had no right to tell anyone how to write, think, pray, talk, believe, speak.

Any deviations and it might upset the delicate political system and granted American overwhelmingly at the time thought they had already entered the Third World War. The devastating effects of World War II, and the horrors of the holocaust had created a societal post-traumatic stress and people were afraid. The government, which does not negate their actions, also held the fear that any un-American activities could bring these actions to our shores.

So off they went to destroy the most widespread medium, the movies. And movies are only made when writers write dialogue. Hence, hell fell on the most gifted and talented.

Hollywood, the entertainment industry is Hollywood,  a walled city within itself and the government, at that time and possibly even now with the onset of terrorism, or alleged accusations meant to derail careers, was intent on destroying from within. If they were unable to scale the walls themselves, the easiest way to destroy is to it from within. Divide and conquer.

Bryan Cranston plays the rabble-rouser Dalton Trumbo, a talented opinionated, passionate and gifted writer fortunate enough to be on living the life in the heyday of the Golden Era.  The early part of the film he is aware of the encroaching evil sentiment spread by Hedda Hopper, played by Dame Helen Mirren, the former silent actress who was never quite able to make the talkie transition leaving her with two options fade or find a new niche.

She decided on the new niche and for the day her numbers of readers at 35million was impressive, and honestly it is impressive today. Her fuel was warmongering. She played on the fear of the people, the PTS of a nation who had witnessed the horrors of Pearl Harbor, the liberation of Europe, the images of Hitler's devastation and destruction and with her brand of patriotism she believed the industry had one obligation and that was to be loyal to the red, white and blue.

Any question of that, any persuasion other than that and you made her list and that was not, as we see in TRUMBO, a list anyone wanted to make. And with the strength of Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA), she was virtually unstoppable. 

There were moments when it was obvious all Trumbo wanted was to fly low under the radar until he could secure the big films, like Roman Holiday, The Brave One, and Spartacus and fight the blacklist in his own armor, fight the giant using his own weapons.

Which is what he did, he knew he couldn't fight and win judicially, so he put on his own amour, he took his pen and slowly killed the blacklist. Script by, god awful, script until his inspired pieces written under pseudonyms, at the beginning, the middle and the end, were nominated and winning awards.

Having seen other films with Michael Stuhlbarg who embodies Hollywood icon Edward G. Robinson, I must say, I don't think I truly ever saw him until he appears here as the screen legend, the refined art collector, the friend. A man torn between friendships and walking a tightrope, a delicate and fine line between good and evil and for survival's sake he chose something so distasteful and in his own mind dishonorable for the singular purpose of stopping the insidious vice grip that was slowly killing him.

Stuhlbarg captures the genuine essence, and of course, not being privy to the golden era of Hollywood, I can't say emphatically, the nuances he brought to the role were the exactness, and his demeanor represented Robinson, at home away from the limelight and Robinson's own persona, and still having some limited insight, the casting, the performance, is noteworthy and memorable.

Diane Lane delivers a flawless performance. More than simply Cleo, the "wife," she is constant, steady, the rock amid the eccentric swirl of the irascible and, at times, cantankerous Dalton Trumbo. He supplied the whimsical, the fiery, the high flying, and she the anchor to his soaring kite. He needed the freedom to master a thousand universes at a moment's notice, and she maintained the only one that truly mattered and when everything was taken, their universe, the one she maintained, nurtured and loved remained and it kept him.

Watching the time unfold, the history, writer John McNamara explained "TRUMBO is a story about history. TRUMBO is not a documentary, some scenes," as McNamara pointed out, "did not happen." Including the scenes when Mr. Trumbo confronts John Wayne played by David James Elliot.

It was moment, pivotal and humorous, that could be considered the compilation of many actual moments.

With an ensemble as gifted as those in TRUMBO the performances bring to life courageous actions superb portrayal, direction and storytelling that brought the story to light and life. Allowing and embracing those dark days adding humor, wit, and dedication.  

Additional and noteworthy performances in TRUMBO include Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Virgil Brooks, Richard Portnow as Louis B. Mayer, Dean O'Gorman as Kirk Douglas, Alan Tudyk as Ian McLellen Hunter, Christian Berkel as Otto Preminger and Elle Fanning as Niki Trumbo.

Director Jay Roach pointed out during our interview, the stories of the Hollywood Ten, are rarely discussed, even as Hollywood has begun to embrace that dark time.

Stories from the McCarthy era that produced Guilty by Suspicion with Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Annette Bening and John Goodman is maybe one of two films about that suffocating season and it isn't about "the House Un-American Committee" and its deep tentacles in pursuing a full on censorship and police state of the entertainment industry.

Seeing the talent in TRUMBO I can honestly say I felt I was seeing actors whom I have seen in many performances for the first time. They brought an inspired freshness, a commitment to truth. The honesty of these performances will resonate throughout history.

The responsibility is clear embrace and defend freedoms and never again allow any blacklist, either openly or in secret, to operate.

I rarely say love in speaking about films, or anything fleeting, and I am passionate about this film. I must say I did love it.

TRUMBO opens November 6, 2015. See this film. TRUMBO is one of 2015's best films. Four stars. Oscar Bound.

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