Trumbo proved to be one of the more intriguing things I watched at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival because it explored the one industry I never thought to be affected by the Cold War: Hollywood. It’s not that I thought the industry was immune to the era’s politics, but I never considered how it may have been impacted. When you throw in Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), director Jay Roach (Austin Power, Meet the parents), an eclectic score and some era-appropriate cinematography to tell that story, its an inviting experience that sometimes to its fault, avoids weighing down too heavily in the period dramatics.
Dalton Trumbo was a famed Hollywood screenwriter and a communist who, along with nine other screenwriters were investigated and subpoenaed by a government committee investigating communist influence in Hollywood. Despite little to no admission from the group ( referred to as The Hollywood Ten), they were imprisoned and blacklisted by studio executives in Hollywood; upon release, no one would work with them.
Bryan Cranston is entertaining, smart and subtly cheeky in his portrayal of Dalton Trumbo who, with a swirl of egotistical tendencies and righteousness, figured out how to play the game even when he became one of the most unemployable talents in Hollywood. As the story goes, Trumbo in post-penitentiary life started fix mediocre film scripts, whispers ran amuck of his work making its way to the big screen under pen names and as a ghostwriter; eventually, he wrote some of the biggest films, including Romans Holiday, Spartacus and The Brave One, even winning Academy Awards for some of such works (but was unacknowledged until years later.).
The film zeroes in on Trumbo’s strained personal relationships and how his somewhat covert operation enraged many key players in Hollywood. Cranston tackles the eventual self-centredness of these endeavours with such a fantastic unapologetic tone, especially when sparring with his equally passionate and stubborn daughter Nikola (brilliantly portrayed by Elle Fanning, Maleficent). Together, they are the heart centre of this story.
In fact, the performances are fairly engaging across the board. Between the welcomed addition of Helen Mirren’s coy but sly reflection of Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, Louis C.K.’s groundedness as Arlen Hird and Diane Lane’s assertive showing as Trumbo’s wife, Cleo, there is enough character to drive this film. Yet for all of its political background, well-paced story building and spotlighting on a unique chapter of Hollywood’s history, there is a missing layer of depth that would make this snappy and witty adaptation of a surprisingly poignant period and individual far more compelling. Though that missed opportunity glares at you, it doesn’t take much away from the actual enjoyableness of the story and Cranston’s strong character adoption of this curious figure.
Trumbo will be released across Canada on November 27th.