The blacklist gets the Hollywood treatment, with a standout performance by Bryan Cranston
A succinct if oversimplified recollection of a sordid chapter in cinematic and American history, the biopic Trumbo follows screenwriting legend Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) through his formative years on the Hollywood blacklist. The most prominent member of the Hollywood 10, industry professionals that were persecuted by congress during the 1950s Red Scare for Communist affiliations, he and his nine colleagues earned jail time for refusing to cooperate and were effectively banned by nervous studios from working on motion pictures.
In need of a livelihood and unwilling to give up his calling, he begins writing mostly schlock under assumed names to make ends meet. His talent shines through in spite of it all, gradually undermining the blacklist by winning two academy awards while disavowed (for Roman Holiday and The Brave One) and receiving enough work to farm out to other blacklisted writers. With the system increasingly shaky, Trumbo is finally vindicated in 1960 when mavericks Otto Preminger and Kirk Douglas openly defy the blacklist and give Trumbo his due, crediting him in their films Exodus and Spartacus, respectively.
While paying close attention to the historical narrative, deftly splicing actors into newsreel footage of the witch hunts, the film dedicates at least as much time to the human cost of personal and professional ostracism. Demoralized and overworked, Dalton increasingly snaps at his family; they in turn have to cope with the stigma of their infamy, becoming alienated from the cantankerous idealist as he risks their well-being for his principles.
Directed by Jay Roach, Trumbo has received some criticism for historical inaccuracies – most notably portraying actor Edward G. Robinson as a snitch (in reality, he testified four times but declined to name names). Nontheless, Trumbo is well worth watching, with Cranston playing the lead with soft-spoken, manic intensity and supported by an excellent cast, including John Goodman as a proudly immoral C-movie producer and a venomous Helen Mirren as influential gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.