Remember The Blacklist in 1947? Ten Hollywood professionals refused to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); as a result they were accused of having Communist sympathies. They were jailed and/or blacklisted from any future work.
Author Bruce Cook ("Dalton Trumbo") has given us a humor-laced book that deserves to be immortalized. Dalton Trumbo ("Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" and "Kitty Foyle") entered that era as Hollywood's top screenwriter. By the time it was over.... well, you're just gonna have to see this movie...smile...
Director Jay Roach ("Meet the Parents"), working with John McNamara (Lots of TV), has assembled this cast:
- * Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") is Dalton Trumbo, angry to be accused of being "Un-American. We can see that the hearings are held in such a way that testimony from the accused is never heard. Trumbo is resourceful though and figures out how to survive.
- * Diane Lane ("Man of Steel") is his steadfast wife Cleo. She watches their lives disintegrate but stays the course.
- * Louis C.K. ("Louie") is Arlen Hird, another blacklisted screenwriter, chain smoking despite his lung cancer.
- * Alan Tudyk ("Firefly") Ian McLellan Hunter won an Oscar for the "Roman Holiday" screenplay, even though he didn't write it.
- * Michael Stuhlbarg ("Steve Jobs") is Edward G. Robinson, who can't work anonymously because his face is his profession. His response is shocking.
- * James DuMont ("Jurassic World") is J. Parnell Thomas, who conducts the initial hearings and then later crosses paths withTrumbo again, much to his surprise.
- * David James Elliott ("Mad Men") is John Wayne, whose persona as a lover of America doesn't seem to jibe with his service during WWII. Elliott doesn't LOOK like, Wayne, but he sure SOUNDS like him.
- * Helen Mirren ("Woman in Gold") is Hedda Hopper, the powerful gossip columnist who is determined to destroy the careers of the accused men. She is smart enough to smell a rat when "The Brave One" by an unknown screenwriter wins an Oscar.
- * Dean O'Gorman ("The Hobbit") Kirk Douglas is furious at Hopper. As a result he did something which I still respect today.
- * Adewale Akinnuooye-Agbaje ("Pompeii") is excellent as Virgil Brooks, the felon who becomes Trumbo's boss in prison.
- * John Goodman (Frank King), Stephen Root (Hymie King), Christian Berkel (Otto Preminger), Richard Portnow (Louis B. Mayer), and dozens of others round out this star-studded cast. Kudos to Casting Agent David Rubin for his excellent work.
The generous use of old newsreels and film clips with our cast integrated into some of them (notice the gladiatorial scene from "Spartacus!") makes everything seem authentic, as does the incessant smoking (even in movie theaters!) and the steady intake of booze and drugs, which accounts for the R rating.
Once again, Cranston turns in an award-worthy performance, as does Louis C.K. I had never pictured the latter as a dramatic actor but this changed my mind. This excellent film works as a recent history lesson about Hollywood power and politics, AND it entertains as well.
In light of the treatment of the Russian people during Stalinism, it is a bit oversimplified for Trumbo to describe Communism to his daughter as "sharing a sandwich," but this script is assumed to be a bit biased, right?