There was some early Oscar buzz for Bryan Cranston’s performance in Trumbo. That was the original draw for many but audiences will be pleasantly surprised when they find Trumbo to be so much more than one actor’s time to shine. The movie is incredibly entertaining, the characters engaging; what it actually has to say is paramount, for any time.
In the days leading up to, and even during, World War II being a part of the United Communist Party of America was seen the same as being affiliated with any other legitimate political party. They weren’t planning to take over the country or selling secrets to Russia. When the Cold War broke out America’s view of this party changed, drastically. Being a communist was the next version of the witch hunts in Salem. No one was killed for being a communist but hundreds of lives were destroyed just the same.
Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was one of the most prolific writers in all of Hollywood. When the red scare took hold of the country Trumbo rallied his friends to stick to their morals and to stick together. Always calculating and always a man of conviction Trumbo’s mind was always working. Churning out scripts, taking care of his family, and fighting in the political arena. His plans didn’t always go his way but he never fully lost sight of who he was and what he was fighting for.
Bryan Cranston’s transformation into Dalton Trumbo is hands down his best performance outside of Walter White from AMC’s retired series, Breaking Bad. The look, voice, and very mannerisms Cranston used were equal parts adaptation and invention. They are consistent throughout the film and tell the story of who Trumbo is without a single word uttered. The writing in the screenplay is strong, giving Cranston has some fantastic moments and monologues.
Diane Lane plays Cleo Trumbo, Dalton’s wife and moral center. Everything Trumbo does after his first misstep is for the benefit of his wife and kids. When he does stray Cleo is there for him. Lane delivers a powerful and memorable performance made even more impressive with her limited screen time. Trumbo had something of an entourage with him. Fellow screenwriters and actors who didn’t feel as compelled to stick to the political agenda as they did to stick to the man. Louis CK, Alan Tudyk, Helen Mirren, John Goodman, Christian Berkel, Elle Fanning, and Michael Stuhlbarg make up the best of these actors. They have some amazing story moments and deliver perfect performances.
Any movie based on relatively recent history runs the risk of a bad impersonation or a campy impression. Yet again, Trumbo excels. Everyone in the film plays a version of a real person but the big names that everyone is familiar with are the tough ones to nail. The average moviegoer doesn’t really know what Arlen Hird looked like, sounded like, and moved like. The average moviegoer does know John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, and John F. Kennedy. These high profile celebrities are all handled with exceptional care and expertise.
The list of actors and acting talent is seemingly endless in this movie but there is more to discuss. The story of Trumbo is interesting in the story itself as well as the time period in America. Post WWII the country is often looked back at with rose colored lenses. The baby boom, the economy hitting all time highs and the greatest generation coming home. Thoughts and acts of bigotry and panic aren’t too often associated with this time but were prevalent. While Trumbo tells the story of a man and a movement, it also educates the audience with an eye opening history lesson. Trumbo truly is a step into the past; into a much different America with issues that ring so much the same. Humanizing Communist American’s takes away some of the sting of the word Communist, almost a curse word in our great country. Trumbo wasn’t an evil man. He didn’t hate his country. Infact he loved America. Some of the movements the man got behind were many of the same issues plaguing our country today. Equality in pay, labor, and treatment. He believed an honest day’s work meant an honest day’s pay. Most importantly of all Trumbo is an exceptional movie for the discussion of freedom of speech.
There’s a phenomenal scene between Trumbo and Hird that sums up the man perfectly. Hird calls Trumbo out for being a communist but also a rich man. Trumbo admits the conflict in ideals. He describes as the radical and the rich guy being the perfect blend of fight and cunning.
Go for the acting. Be engaged by the story. Learn something about history, and be moved by messages of equality and self expression without the slightest hint of the movie becoming preachy or heavy handed. Trumbo is a true masterpiece.