Reviews

Trumbo: Breaking blacklist

A still from 'Trumbo'.

A still from 'Trumbo'.  

Powered by a solid performance by Bryan Cranston, Trumbo is an entertaining character study

One of the greatest strengths of cinema is how it brings morals, values, politics and geography to a level playing field and makes us look at everything through the prism of humanity.

Trumbo goes straight to the beginning of the Cold War in the US, when being Communists were equated to being ‘friends of Russia’ and enemies of the state. They were much more of a menace to the government when they happened to be among the most popular artistes in Hollywood, making them powerful influencers. Even if their films were far from propaganda, their personal political beliefs were a crime.

Trumbo shows us clearly which side is wrong, but never does it propagate leftist ideals or sloganeer against right-wing nationalism.

The film is about Dalton Trumbo, and the nine others who made up the blacklisted ‘Hollywood Ten’, who didn’t want to be told what to write. The core of the film is so universal and relevant that it will resonate with everyone, irrespective of their political leanings.

But the highs of Trumbo are not in its commentary on freedom of expression, which is nothing startlingly novel. They are in the character study of a man who is amusing, odd, full of contradictions, flawed and heroic. A radical Communist who also happens to be the richest screenwriter in the world. A man so possessed with providing for his family that he forgets to really care for them. A rousing orator with a gift for the flowery gab. A writer who will go to any length to pursue his art – in the later stage of his career he decides that a half-filled bath tub is really the best writing desk.

Bryan Cranston who made the morally-ambiguous, deeply-flawed but always relatable Walter White in TV’s Breaking Bad such a legend is the perfect choice for the role. Cranston is a joy to watch. He never allows the character to look like a caricature, delivering every bit with a heft of humanity.

Cranston gets a superb supporting cast that includes Louis CK as Arlen Hird, Trumbo’s closest comrade; John Goodman as Frank King, the B movie producer; and

Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper, the malicious and powerful Hollywood columnist.

And then there is the fun of watching Hollywoodlore unfold. Trumbo wrote Roman Holiday inspired by an unlikely sight of the simple, happy American family life -- his wife and kids out on the lawn, probably getting the breakfast table ready. He wrote it when the ‘Hollywood ten’ was banned from working in Hollywood and sold the script to someone else who ended up winning an Oscar (Trumbo was posthumously awarded that Oscar). The scene of Trumbo, seated with his family and a tub of popcorn in front of the TV set, erupting in celebration as the Oscars are announced is, in a way, the defining image of the film.

The portions where the ‘Hollywood ten’ form a secret agency to get back into business play out like a smooth con-movie. The film stays very much within the conventional contours of a Hollywood biopic but manages to entertain throughout.

In the end of the film, we see Trumbo being reinstated at the Writer’s Guild of America, West, receiving much-deserved recognition for the films he had written under pseudonyms or sold to others. And given the Academy’s track record of favouring all things pro-American, it is only fitting that Cranston has bagged his first nomination for Best Actor at the Oscars.

Trumbo may not dig deep – for all its pleasures, the film doesn’t linger. But it does a fine job of picking up a remarkable real life story of an unlikely hero and telling it with a filmic aura it deserves.

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 4:16:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-reviews/trumbo-breaking-blacklist/article8227870.ece

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