Bryan Cranston has had a very unusual life. He grew up with two siblings in Los Angeles to a mother that was a radio actress and a father that was an actor and amateur boxer. At age eleven, his father walked out on the family due to not being able to hold down a steady job. When Bryan was twenty-two he finally renewed his relationship with his father after his brother was able to track him down. His early acting career consisted mostly of appearing in commercials and landing small parts on several different television shows. He got his big break in the year 2000 when he was cast as the father on the much beloved television show Malcolm in the Middle. Since then his notoriety has skyrocket due to his appearance in several big budget blockbusters as well as starring in the critically acclaimed television show Breaking Bad. Director Jay Roach’s new film entitled Trumbo now has Bryan playing one of Hollywood’s top screenwriters of the McCarthy Era.
The film depicts the true story of Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), a staunch communist supporter who at one time was the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood. In 1947 he was summoned to the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) hearings where he and several other communist screenwriters were jailed and blacklisted due to their contempt of Congress. After leaving prison Trumbo found it very hard to get any work so he began to write for smaller, less prestigious film studios under false names. At the same time, he was also working towards abolishing the blacklist and helping other screenwriters that had been affected by it.
Trumbo is a film that undoubtedly shows a very heinous stain on American history by the way of the United States Government. It has fantastic performances throughout but its uneven execution holds it back from being as great as it could be. Bryan Cranston is terrific as always by digging deep into the character and extracting every single morsel of humility and decency. He is instantly likable as he puffs away time after time on his ever-lasting cigarettes and downs countless amounts of alcohol. His performance scales to embody the “every man” persona and he does so in such a way that it never feels unearned or ham-fisted. Simply put, Cranston fades away and Dalton Trumbo is the man that you are watching throughout the film. The other notable performances would be that of Louis C.K. and John Goodman. Both men are able to bring some levity into the very dark subject matter that help the film from being a culmination of depressing events.
While the second half of the film has many great moments and a phenomenal grasp on tone and structure, the first half unfortunately feels like a made-for-TV movie. A lack of artistic vision with bland cinematography and characters that feel somewhat aimless make it a chore to watch. However, the second half is so well put-together that I can discount a lot of the first half’s tribulations in order to push them aside in favor of the film as a whole. In addition, as a window into Hollywood’s dealings with communism, Trumbo is a great outlook of the past and a lesson on what the first amendment truly means. It’s also a film that I’d highly recommend for both its performances as well as the overall narrative that it weaves.
Synopsis: The true story of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and his fight against Hollywood and the US Government’s views on communism.
Director: Jay Roach
Writers: John McNamara, Bruce Cook
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Louis C.K., John Goodman
Runtime: 124 Minutes