“What the imagination can’t conjure, reality delivers with a shrug.”
From the first time I heard of its existence, sometime around mid year, Trumbo seemed like a slam dunk for a truck load of Oscars. First of all, it’s a Hollywood movie about classic Hollywood, always a good start. Second of all, it had Brian Cranston in his first mainstream, leading role since gaining immense critical, ratings and audience acclaim as Walter White in Breaking Bad. But when the movie came out, it was with a whimper, not a shout. Even with its lackluster response, I couldn’t help being a little excited about the Hollywood movie about classic Hollywood, starring Brian Cranston, that was Trumbo.
At the end of the Second World War, the US alliance with Russia that lead to the victory is quickly forgotten as fear of the communist, red menace sweeps America. It’s the kind of fear that makes bad guys out of people like Dalton Trumbo (Cranston). Despite just signing the most lucrative deal in the history of screenwriting, his belief that a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay earns him derision as a pinko commie.
With colleagues in tow in the form of actor Edward G Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) and screenwriter Arlen Hird (Louis CK), Trumbo makes the silly mistake of thinking he will be saved by the constitution, just because the constitution literally defends his right to his beliefs. But soon, the red panic sees him out of work, and eventually behind bars, simply because of those constitutionally allowed beliefs.
Now, I know that the American government has committed much greater atrocities. Such as the Vietnam War, and maybe even unleashing the crack epidemic on lower income neighbourhoods, but the idea of the McCarthy witch hunts in the 40s and 50s has always stood out to me as so egregiously avoidable. And the Hollywood blacklisting of people like Dalton Trumbo has been the most obvious sign of just how wrong the American government got it.
Trumbo is one of those self satisfied movies that has an almost shit eating grin and wink as it references all the ways its subject has been proven right by hindsight, and just how narrow minded and hypocritical his enemies were. But you know what, I was so onboard with this view of this point in history, that bias only made me like it more. There’s something so satisfying about seeing Ronald Reagan, one of history’s biggest dip shits, take the wrong side in a story like this.
I really like Trumbo, but I understand why it was a seemingly Oscar favourite pre release was all but ignored by the Academy once it was actually released. It’s entertaining and extremely well executed, while being totally predictable at the same time. Even if you don’t know the real life story going in, the opening minutes of this movie make sure you know exactly where it’s headed. But Brian Cranston does 100% justify his Beat Actor nod. Story predictability, and goofy moustache and glasses aside, almost everything great about this movie comes down to Cranston’s portrayal of its titular star.
One last thing. Very few things are being said about Trumbo. But those few things are pretty much all focused on Brian Cranston. And as great as he predictably is, the real stand out for me was Louis CK. Dalton Trumbo might be the hero, but CK’s Arlen Hird is the heart.