I wanted to like Jay Roach’s film Trumbo. After all, it is a serious treatment of the cold war days, during which some of the finest creative talents in Hollywood were blacklisted and even imprisoned beginning in the late 40s. Dalton Trumbo was the top screenwriter of the day, a committed leftist, and one who refused to crumble in the face of nasty political repression. He would not answer the questions of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), originally tasked in 1938 to search out Nazis, but quickly transformed into a Cold War terminator.
The cast includes some favorites: Helen Mirren as the malevolent gossip columnist Hedda Hopper; Diane Lane as the long-suffering, endlessly calming wife of Trumbo; John Goodman as the rapacious film producer of schlock; Louis C.K. as Trumbo’s sidekick and sounding board Arlen Hird.
We get a fascinating look at which stars of the day were right-wing red-baiters like John Wayne and which were progressives like Kirk Douglas. However, despite the casting of some great actors doing walk-on bits about household names, I found no one to love. Bryan Cranston’s Dalton Trumbo is an awkward, arrogant character who bullied his own family and acted precipitously without collaborating with those close to him. In short, he was full of himself.
It is a story that I’m glad has been told and I hope it will encourage people to look at this dark, creepy period of American history – particularly to see how it resonates with America’s current political climate. Substitute “Islamic terrorists” for “Communists” and the ugliness will seem familiar. I only wish the film had succeeded in engaging me emotionally. Of course I was outraged by the lying machinations of the anti-left crusaders, but the movie failed to deliver a sense of the profound devastation they visited on the lives of so many people. It’s worth seeing, however, especially for those who know little about what went on in Hollywood in those days.