Trumbo might not be a perfect film, but if for no other reason, it’s worth seeing for the apt metaphor it makes to some current events.
If you don’t know the history, Dalton Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten, a group of film workers – mostly writers – blacklisted for their alleged Communist sympathies. Though the film simplifies some things, gets some facts wrong on Edward G. Robinson, and has all one-note villains, it’s a pretty darn relevant reminder of the danger of fanaticism, demagoguery, and sweeping exclusion that we’re hearing a lot about today. Replace the word “communist” with “Muslim,” change a few hair-styles, and you’ve got a movie that would be on-the-nose for 2015. The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals – a real entity – sounds like some right-wing campaign slogans.
Yeah, I’m making the comparison easier than it is, but it’s there. (Total digression regarding all of the recent links in support of Trump’s proposals that justify by citing how Carter banned Iranians in the 1970s and 1980s: while that has been pretty well argued against in terms of policy, and geography vs. idealogy, a few other things struck me. Firstly, the argument is essentially the equivalent of the “saint Reagan” narrative. “This guy’s the ideal of the —- party. He did this. You agree with that party. You therefore agree with everything — says. It’s a broken syllogism that should be rejected on the grounds that it requires hardcore partisanism, which shouldn’t be the thesis of anyone’s claim. Even if Carter’s policy were a solid comparable you don’t have to agree with it just because you’re anti-Trump (thereby, effectively making you either pro-Trump or anti-Carter). and secondly, Carter’s act had a clause of immigration on humanitarian reasons, which is one of the exact reasons why Trump’s proposal is so dangerous – there’s a massive current humanitarian crisis!)
Okay. Enough of that. Back to Trumbo. Louis CK is unfortunately miscast as Arlen Hird, but the performances are roundly great. Diane Lane makes a fantastic Cleo Trumbo, and Bryan Cranston is unsurprisingly superb as the lead.
It’s my understanding that Edward G. Robinson (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) never actually named names. He’s portrayed as such in here. That would be a pretty rough departure from history for an iconic actor.
The villains in here – the whole of HUAC, John Wayne (David James Elliot), gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), and a few others, are all mostly on-screen to do villainous things and thereby eventually get their comeuppance. Wayne has a moment behind closed doors at the office for the Preservation of American Ideals which brings him a bit of reality and levity, but for the most part, these people are all Disney bad guys.
That’s tough, because this movie deals with a phenomenally difficult time and the desire (and actually, much of the history) has to be demonize these people, but when they appear mostly just to deliver a stabbing line or smile condescendingly it starts to get old. I would’ve loved a real conversation between Hopper and Trumbo, for example, rather than the quick barbs exchanged in two separate scenes.
The history keeps the movie moving though. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it might come as a shock. If you know it, there are plenty of fun Easter eggs (some great Otto Preminger moments, for example), and good old-fashioned drama.