Directed by Jay Roach
Blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo won two Oscars in his career—for writing, under pen names, “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One”—but for playing the eccentric Communist in director Jay Roach’s (“Meet the Parents”) “Trumbo,” can’t Bryan Cranston at least get some Oscar buzz? Cranston’s name deserves to be in the conversation. The 5-time Emmy winner cements his place in the post-“Breaking Bad” world by matching every remarkable mannerism of his infamous character. Cranston gives over all control to his character. His nuanced performance is up there with the best of them. So, let the buzz begin.
In 1943, Dalton Trumbo (Cranston), after having already found success and wealth and having been nominated for his first Academy Award, joined the Communist Party of the United States of America. Four years later, the House Un-American Activities Committee called the “Hollywood Ten” (Trumbo and nine more of Hollywood’s biggest players and open Communists) to testify in federal court. Thus began Trumbo’s long and tiring ride, including a year in prison, which took a toll on his family (including his wife played by Diane Lane and eldest daughter, Elle Fanning) and his fellow commie screenwriters (like Louis C.K. and Alan Tudyk) and was propagated by “patriots” like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren). But Trumbo never named names or stopped fighting for the right to speak his mind. And every American hero deserves his place on the big screen.
Screenwriter John McNamara (creator of the barely renewed David Duchovny drama “Aquarius”) admitted feeling nervous penning a script about one of Hollywood’s best writers (Trumbo also wrote “Spartacus” and “Papillon”). Trying to cover nearly two decades in just over two hours, McNamara writes a long and compelling story that never strays from the sometimes ugly truths of Trumbo’s fascinating life. Plus, “Trumbo” still has political relevance. It’s not fit for any one era. I was hooked the whole time.
It’s early December, and though arguably the two most likely Best Actor winners have yet to be shown on the big screen, the year is nearing its conclusion. And so far, Bryan Cranston’s performance in “Trumbo” is one of the year’s best. He’s certainly kooky, but it’s only until you see a Dalton Trumbo interview that you realize how spot-on Cranston’s portrayal is. Cranston gets lost in his character. He becomes unrecognizable, as only the best actors can manage. But if I’ve said it a million times, I’ll say it one more: he doesn’t do it alone. Alan Tudyk is an underestimated asset. Whether it’s as the best cinema pirate since Jack Sparrow in “Dodgeball” or lending his voice to the wily King in “Wreck-it-Ralph,” Tudyk makes any film a little better. The wickedly evil Helen Mirren takes a 180 spin from her soft-edged performance in “Woman in Gold” just months ago. Here, she shows that the worst in herself is also the best. As studio head Frank King, John Goodman (who starred in “Always,” a 1989 adaptation of Trumbo’s “A Guy Named Joe”) is wonderfully hilarious. But television guy Louis C.K., playing screenwriter Arlen Hird, has a tougher transition than Cranston. This isn’t his first time on screen, of course—in “American Hustle,” he was actually a riot—but in “Trumbo,” C.K. seems stilted in his delivery. His sardonic tone is a great fit for the film, but he doesn’t make it work.
Bryan Cranston’s quick wit and his seemingly effortless ability to transform into the brilliant Dalton Trumbo make this dramatic and entertaining biopic one of the year’s better films. Disregard what you’ve heard, unless it’s that Bryan Cranston deserves a fighting chance at the year’s most prestigious acting award. That part is true.