Trumbo | Film review – Bryan Cranston’s ‘red’ writer outwits the Hollywood blacklist

Trumbo, Dalton Trumbo, Bryan Cranston

An Oscar-nominated Bryan Cranston brims with debonair charisma in Trumbo, a breezy biopic of legendary Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted during America’s Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s but found ingenious ways to outwit his enemies.

Cranston’s wisecracking Trumbo is a mass of contradictions. A left-wing champion of the people, he is also the highest paid writer in America with a lifestyle to match (a studio boss dubs him “a swimming-pool Soviet”). Then he falls foul of the McCarthy era’s anti-communist hysteria. Along with nine other screenwriters (the ‘Hollywood Ten’), he is hauled before the House Committee on Un-American Activities but refuses to answer their questions and is found in contempt of Congress. Blacklisted by the studios, he ends up serving 11 months in Texarkana prison.

On release, he gets around the blacklist by ghostwriting screenplays under the names of friends or pseudonyms. However, his lavish lifestyle takes a hit. He’s forced to downsize, moving his family out of their large country home and is forced to churn out B-movies to make ends meet. Even so, he anonymously ‘wins’ a brace of Oscars for Roman Holiday and The Brave One and, eventually, the blacklist crumbles when actor Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger publicly acknowledge him as the writer of Spartacus and Exodus respectively.

Trumbo, Helen Mirren, Hedda Hopper, Bryan Cranston, Dalton Trumbo

Trumbo’s is a fascinating story and one that casts a highly illuminating light on mid-20th-century US history. Admittedly, director Jay Roach’s movie does play a little fast and loose with the historical and biographical facts. But Cranston’s wisecracking hero has us rooting for Trumbo throughout, although he does test the sympathies of his long-suffering wife (Diane Lane) and children when he is churning out screenplays – typing away in his bathtub, sustained by booze, benzedrine and cigarettes – for John Goodman’s larger-than-life B-movie producer.

Among the other Hollywood figures popping up are venomous, red-baiting gossip columnist Helen Hopper (Helen Mirren), faint-hearted leftie Edward G Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) and a fiercely right-wing John Wayne (David James Elliott).


Certificate 15. Runtime 125 mins. Director Jay Roach

Trumbo is available on Blu-ray & DVD, courtesy of Entertainment One.