It's post-World War II in the United States. Spirits are at a giddying high. War is over, and the country is thriving. However, a dark shadow lurks in one of its most sinister forms: the influence of communists over Hollywood's films - or at least that's what the masses are told. They say there are two sides to every story, and in the latest filmic telling of the Hollywood Blacklist, audiences are given the chance to see the effects of fearmongering from both perspectives.
Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is the best-paid screenwriter in Hollywood. He also happens to be a registered member of the Communist Party. Far from being an undercover spy, his beliefs are very public; he champions causes like fighting for wage rises for set builders, putting him in foul favour with many of the well-compensated actors, directors and producers. When he and nine other Hollywood heavyweights are called before the House Un-American Activities Committee regarding alleged communist propaganda in Hollywood films, Trumbo winds up in prison. Unable to put his name to any of his work, Trumbo is forced to invent creative ways to support his family, clear his name and reclaim his place in Hollywood.
Without doubt, Bryan Cranston is the glue that holds this film together. His portrayal of Trumbo is nothing short of career-defining; in the same way he brought Walter White to life on the small screen in 'Breaking Bad', he entirely embodies Dalton Trumbo in cinematic glory. You are entirely convinced of the man's convictions and understand the compromises he endures thanks to Cranston's enrapturing embodiment of this man.
That said, all of the performances are uniformly excellent. You see Louis C.K. as Trumbo's friend Arlen Hird, in a performance miles apart from Cranston's, but no less enjoyable. You'll love to hate Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper, who stops at nothing to rid Hollywood of communists. At her side, David James Elliott's John Wayne is also impressive, as is Dean O'Gorman (Fili, 'The Hobbit' Trilogy) with the relatively meaty role of Kirk Douglas. John Goodman is his usual engrossing self, here playing the no-bullshit studio exec for the trashiest films in Hollywood who gives Trumbo a second chance. But the female duo of Elle Fanning as Trumbo's daughter Niki and Diane Lane as his wife Cleo are really the balancing force to the tsumani-like main character; their quiet and furious performances make for a convincing family unit.
Bryan Cranston is the glue that holds this film together. His portrayal of Trumbo is nothing short of career-defining.
Director Jay Roach ('The Campaign', 'Meet the Parents') has done well to take us back to a very distinctive and well-documented period in history. That's no small thanks to cinematographer Jim Denault ('Wayward Pines', 'Six Feet Under'), whose mood-setting shots are spot on. The script by John McNamara ('The Magicians') does lull in places, and while it does feel as though it drags on at times, the visuals and performances sufficiently save the film on each occasion.
Whatever your political stance, it's impossible to say the punishment bestowed upon the Hollywood Ten was equal to any crimes they committed. Although this film takes us back some 70 years, the issue of freedom versus governmental power is still as poignant as ever. Though this film may fall victim of being too "inside Hollywood" for the average movie-goer, it has an important message that deserves to be listened to by anyone who's willing to hear it.