The highs and lows of the life of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo are depicted with great conviction in Jay Roach’s absorbing biographical film. 


Dalton Trumbo was an American writer who wrote continuously throughout his working life. He was even a cub reporter for a local paper in Colorado while still in high school. After his father died in 1926 when Trumbo was 21, he worked nights at a Los Angeles bakery for nine years while still at university and while writing countless stories, novels and reviews. Magazine work drew him to the Hollywood Spectator where he was managing editor, a position that led him to the Warner Bros studio as a reader in the story department. During the 1930s and ’40s Trumbo was earning a lot of money because he was reliable, fast, versatile and capable of writing for any genre of film. He received his first Oscar nomination in 1940 for Kitty Foyle, a vehicle for Ginger Rogers.


When politics intervened during the war years of 1939-45 his luck changed. With a love of humanity if not individuals, he stood against war and became a Communist sympathiser, although he was never anti-American in his views. The subsequent hysteria caused by HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, led him and nine other Hollywood writers and directors being blacklisted for contempt of Congress in refusing to testify to the Committee. Jay Roach’s film concentrates on the appalling circumstances that Trumbo found himself in while Bryan Cranston brings this no-nonsense, tough nut of a character to brilliant life as he refuses to compromise on his views.


When the Motion Picture Association of America barred the Communist sympathisers from working in Hollywood, Trumbo and others had to go underground for work in order to carry on with their lives. He sold his ranch and moved to Mexico where he wrote many screenplays under assumed names for some of the cheap independent companies that were flourishing at the time. Some years later actors and producers employed him on major films again, such as William Wyler, Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger, the men behind Roman Holiday, Spartacus and Exodus. In all Trumbo wrote some three dozen screenplays including Career, Cowboy, The Last Sunset, Lonely Are the Brave, The Sandpiper, Hawaii, The Fixer, Executive Action and Papillon. However, the public still had to wait until 2011 before Trumbo was given credit for writing Roman Holiday in 1953. The film was subsequently granted an Academy Award. In 1975 he had won an Oscar for The Brave One.



All washed-up: Bryan Cranston in his Oscar-nominated performance


This was a terrible period in Hollywood history and one that brought shame upon the US film industry. It couldn’t happen now because silencing a person’s views is tantamount to an invasion of their human rights. Jay Roach covers this shameful time with great imagination, detailing how driven Trumbo was in wanting to work as a writer, to the point where he had to ignore even his own family. He would sit in a bath, a glass of scotch at the ready, and type his scripts, literally shutting his family out of his life. Bryan Cranston brilliantly captures the spirit of a man who was obviously a mordant son of a gun to live with. Fine support comes from Diane Lane as his wife Cleo, Elle Fanning as daughter Nikola, Helen Mirren as the waspish Hollywood gossipmonger Hedda Hopper, and John Goodman as Frank King, owner of a low-rent studio who was prepared to employ Trumbo because he delivered the required goods on time. Various other Hollywood luminaries of the period are depicted in cameos, including Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson, David James Elliott as John Wayne, Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas, Christian Berkel as Otto Preminger, John Getz as director Sam Wood and Richard Portnow as MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer.




Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Stephen Root, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Getz, Laura Flannery, David James Elliott, David Maldonado, Richard Portnow, Dean O’Gorman, Christian Berkel.


Dir Jay Roach, Pro Kevin Kelly Brown, Monica Levinson, Michael London, Nimitt Mankad, John McNamara, Shivani Rawat and Janice Williams, Screenplay John McNamara, based on the book Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Cook, Ph Jim Denault, Pro Des Mark Ricker, Ed Alan Baumgarten, Music Theodore Shapiro, Costumes Daniel Orlandi.

Groundswell Productions/ShivHans Pictures-Entertainment One.
124 mins. USA. 2015. Rel: 5 February 2016. Cert. 15.