Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Screenwriter defies injustice in sharp, witty Trumbo

Bryan Cranston has come a long way since he played in A Doll's House and The Taming Of the Shrew with Shakespeare Santa Cruz onstage in the Festival Glen in 1992. He was a flustered TV sitcom dad for several seasons on Malcolm In the Middle.

And, oh yes, there's a little item in his résumé called Breaking Bad, for which he won four Emmys and a Golden Globe.

Cranston has also been making films for years, but rarely has he landed such a plummy starring role—and played it with such relish—as Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted real-life Hollywood screenwriter at the center of Jay Roach's smart, incisive drama, Trumbo. Scripted by John McNamara, from the non-fiction book by Bruce Cook, it's a wildly entertaining plunge into the dark heart of anti-Communist witch-hunting in Hollywood during the 1940s and '50s, as experienced by one extremely savvy intended "victim" who had the guts, the brains, and the chutzpah to survive.

In 1947, at the height of a fruitful Hollywood career writing hit movies for the likes of Spencer Tracy and Ginger Rogers, Dalton Trumbo (Cranston) has just inked a deal with MGM to become the highest-paid screenwriter in the business. He and his wife, Cleo (Diane Lane, terrific, as always), and their three young children live on a gorgeous property in the Hollywood Hills.

Mirren and Cranston: she's on a mission
Then one day, he gets a subpoena from the House Un-American Committee to testify in Washington DC about alleged Communist "infiltration" of Hollywood.

Helen Mirren is wonderfully waspish as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who's on a mission to get "Commie traitors" out of Hollywood. John Goodman is hilarious as exploitation movie mogul Jack King, who's only too happy to hire Trumbo to churn out cheesy potboilers under an assumed name when no one else will give him work.

(According to my sources, the 1950 film noir classic, Gun Crazy was written by Trumbo for King Brothers Productions.)

The real-life Trumbo in his famous bathtub
Cranston plays Trumbo with an edgy, raging wit, pounding away at his typewriter with a cigarette holder in one hand and a glass of hooch nearby.

He edits in his bathtub with its makeshift desktop, literally cutting up the script with a scissors (in those pre-computer days), and re-pasting the scenes in better order on what looks like a long roll of shelf paper.

He's the heart of this sharp, frisky film for anyone interested in stories about writers, backstage Hollywood, or the (belated) triumph of reason over fear-mongering. (Read more)

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