Bryan Cranston does cranky old man very well and his title role in Trumbo is no exception. Crooked from hours hunched over a typewriter (or working in the bath) as a screenwriter, Cranston vividly portrays an erudite genius with a penchant for troublemaking.
Named as one of the ‘Hollywood 10’ that were blacklisted in 1947 for being self-declared communists, Dalton Trumbo and his allies were moral anomalies in a town ruled by money.
What made life harder for Trumbo and his associates was that Hedda Hopper (played by a flamboyantly hatted Helen Mirren), a former MGM starlet turned Times reporter, took exceptional umbrage to their ‘anti-American’ stance and set out to destroy them in the press.
Surprises in this film come in the form of comedian Louis CK’s turn as Arlen Hird, a committed communist who rails against Trumbo, claiming he is more intent on making mischief than instigating social change. CK’s acting is natural, with a believability that is rare.
Other surprises are the family dynamic between Trumbo, his wife Cleo (played by Diane Lane), and his children. The sub-plot of how Trumbo’s politics affect his children’s development and his marriage is one of the more gripping aspects of the period piece, as the audience watch Trumbo’s eldest daughter Nikola grow into a political activist.
The fun part is being in on the secret that is the core premise of the film; the fact that Trumbo wrote two Oscar-winning films under pseudonyms during his period in professional exile.
Roman Holiday and The Brave One were the titles in question, but the blacklisted group of screenwriters churned out hundreds of scripts, primarily for the King Brothers studio headed up by a ball-busting Frank King (played by John Goodman).
With some inward-gazing Hollywood sentimentality and an obvious Oscar play at hand, Trumbo is a solid film with strong performances from Cranston, CK and Goodman, as well as a great villain in the form of Mirren.
Trumbo opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday February 18.