by Hope Madden
“We are going to have to do some things that we never did before, and some people are going to get upset about it. But I think that now, everybody is feeling that security is going to rule.”
Those are Donald Trump’s words as to why he’d consider warrantless searches, Muslim databases, and closing or surveilling mosques – a fear-monger-fueled attack on civil liberties and basic humanity. What’s scary is the idea that he’d consider doing things “we never did before,” because, as Trumbo points out, we’ve done some pretty nasty things in the name of xenophobia.
Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) had been the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood before the blacklist. He and nine others chose to stand up for their first amendment rights, finding themselves in contempt of Congress and facing jail time. What you may not know, and the film hopes to point out, is that Trumbo was at the center of the shameful period of history from its opening to its close.
As fascinating a history lesson as Trumbo is, too much competes for your attention.
Though the cast is lousy with talent, that almost becomes its weakness. There are so many people to draw your consideration, with few characters feeling as if they serve the larger story as much as they require attention of their own.
Elle Fanning is wonderful, as usual, as Trumbo’s eldest daughter – a social activist like her father. Helen Mirren is delightfully wicked as Hedda Hopper, gossip columnist and anti-Communist instigator. Louis C.K. offers perhaps the most naturalistic performance in the film, which, while quite solid on its own, actually emphasizes the sometimes stilted performances around him. Meanwhile, Diane Lane is utterly wasted in the conflicted but supportive wife role.
Even smaller roles sometimes rob focus from the central character and story. John Goodman and Stephen Root liven things up as Schlockmeisters Frank and Hymie King, and Christian Berkel is a scene-stealing scream as Otto Preminger.
Cranston’s central figure should be the undisputed star, though, and the fact that so many others pull for your attention is a shame, because the Breaking Bad star tosses off droll one-liners like an old pro, and his chemistry with every other actor onscreen is wonderful. He epitomizes the writer’s inherent yin and yang with effortless humor and skill.
There is an expression of weary panic on his face as he sees the direction his beloved country is taking – one of ignorance, fear, and hatred. It’s a look we can probably all recognize about now.