Trumbo, a recreation of the most shameful period of American history to date and a depiction of the force that was Dalton Trumbo who defied the blacklist could and should win Best Picture for 2015. Starring Bryan Cranston, who should already be making space for an Oscar, Diane Lane and John Goodman and directed by Jay Roach, this docudrama/biopic is a film that is impossible not to love.
Entertaining, funny, heartbreaking and thought provoking, Trumbo gets so much right and this compensates for the few items that could be seen as wrong. The film looks sumptuous, rich and full of detail, from Dalton’s library to the tools of his trade, everything looks spot on and beautiful. The things that do not work as well irk but some things cannot be faithfully recreated.
A perfect example of this is in the area of casting. As the main “protagonist” Cranston’s casting of Dalton Trumbo is serendipity in its purest form, the man is Trumbo. All of the actors chosen to play the “main roles” fit their characters like tailored kid-gloves. Diane Lane, for example, who can play any part with a skill that many hope for and spend a lifetime trying to achieve but fall that bit short, becomes Cleo Trumbo almost effortlessly.
Elle Fanning, little sis to Dakota, as Trumbo’s teen daughter is perfect. Fanning is well on the path to outshining her wunderkind older sister and her performance in this film proves that the Fanning girls definitely got more than their fair share of the talent gene.
Helen Mirren, drops the accent to portray Hedda Harper as a vicious and malicious shrew. Best actress should be hers automatically. Sadly, Lane and Fanning are also up for the gong and this three way race will definitely end in tears for someone.
John Goodman, along side Stephen Root who plays Hymie, portrays the outspoken ‘B’ filmmaker Frank King. Goodman’s King may just have the best comic line in the entire film. When chasing out a representative of the “opposition” Frank states that he makes films “for the p*ssy and the money, both of which are falling out of the trees,” One of those moments that if this was not what Frank really said, it should have been.
The true star of this film, however, is Cranston. He brings the legend that was Dalton Trumbo to life. Whether sitting in his bathtub telling Nikki off for disturbing him or attempting to survive in prison, the actor lends a realism to the Oscar winning writer who was blacklisted by a combination of well meaning patriots and vicious politicians with hidden agendas. Although Hedda Hopper cannot be said to be either. This vitriolic and strident gossip columnist could well be the template that some modern writers strive to follow. (Ann Coulter for instance?)
The music, sets, cinematography and costumes in this film all combine to bring a breath of truth to the proceedings. Just as the mix of news reel footage of the time takes the viewer back to a most shameful time in the land of the free so too do all these other elements bring the audience back to a different world.
There are things that have been “altered” or that annoy. These few moments take nothing away from the film. Part of the problem has to do with that ever present curse of biopic features that deal with stars of yesteryear. Granted, finding a modern actor who could convincingly portray “Duke” Wayne, who had a life long love affair with America, would be difficult and it was.
The unenviable task fell to David James Elliott. Michael Stuhlbarg was left to bring Edward G. Robinson to life, Dean O’Gorman was Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger was played by Christian Berkel. All the actors carried off their roles with varying degrees of success if one forgave that only O’Gorman came close to looking like the real performers the were meant to portray.
Cranston, as Trumbo, carries off the look and the sound of the legend and more importantly, the spirit of the man. This film is a testament to the drive and tenacity of Trumbo as well as his overwhelming talent.
Director Jay Roach takes the John McNamara screenplay, adapted from Bruce Cook’s novel and breaths life into a time that many in the audience have only read about, if even that. The communist witch hunts, lead later by McCarthy, got their start here in the land of dreams.
The stage was set by world events, as stated in the film’s introductory titles, making this, perhaps, an inevitability. Roach captures the time and the feelings of a bygone era to great effect and come award time, Trumbo should sweep the gongs on offer.
This is easily the best film to come out this year, in the area of biopic/docudrama and features actors who all are well known for delivering first class performances. John Goodman, Alan Tudyk and Louis C.K. all give first rate portrayals. While Goodman is up for Best Supporting actor, he may be pipped at the post by Schulman’s vulnerable and touching performance as Edward G. Robinson, whom the committee forced to crawl and beg his way back to work.
This is easily this critic’s favorite film, despite the bits that “do not fit exactly.” Any biopic, especially one so long after the fact, will fictionalize, or alter certain time periods and facts, in order to make the story more entertaining and palatable. Film, by the very nature of the medium, fictionalizes any “true story” or event. Trumbo is not exception, but it does not do so frivolously or senselessly, it alters for the over all good of the story.
Trumbo should be seen by all who have heard of Dalton Trumbo, the blacklist, Spartacus. Roman Holiday, Hedda Hopper or the Un-American Committee. The film should also be seen by anyone who loves a hero, an intelligent and talented writer of creative works and Bryan Cranston.
This is a 5 star film and one that, thus far, falls into the category of favorite film of 2015. If you watch nothing else, watch this one and then when it garners praise at the award’s ceremonies later, you will not be surprised.