Sitting in his bathtub in the classic writer’s pose
hunched over a manual typewriter with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in
the other, Dalton Trumbo gets it right on paper. He doesn’t bring his politics
into play or into the screenplay.
But off the film set, Trumbo is what a paranoid
America once dreaded – a ‘C’ word, a Communist. It translated into ‘traitor’
for influential columnist Hedda Hopper, for the likes of actor John Wayne in
Hollywood and for the McCarthy regime of America.
Strangely, for a true life film about an award-winning
writer, the writing by John McNamara uses either Trumbo’s daughter Nikola or a
letter from prison as ‘sutradhars’
which is not a stroke of brilliance. And one does wonder whether the use of the
‘eff’ word was so liberal in the 40s and 50s. But fortunately, the story is so
strong and so resonates with the political debate of the day in India that
Trumbo turns out to be a must-watch.
Hollywood’s acerbic columnist Hedda Hopper uses her
might to blackmail studio heads to boycott Trumbo and his comrades. Politicians
like Thomas Parnell want them hounded out. The House Un-American Activities
Committee goes after the writers. Dalton’s own comrades view him with suspicion
for holding radical views but living like a rich guy. He’s called a ‘swimming
pool Soviet’ and a ‘Red menace’.
But unperturbed, Trumbo turns the skills of the banned
writers into a thriving business where they moonlight for filmmakers under
various aliases. Despite a prison sentence and a ban, the pen will always have
a buyer. And there are filmmakers like Frank King, maker of rubbish but who
also makes pots of money, who is more ballsy than the men who run fancy
On the other hand, it’s entirely believable that actor
Edward Robinson who sold his precious Van Gogh to fund the comrades, later
turns on them for sheer survival.
There are scenes which make you want to punch the air.
Like, when Trumbo sees politician Parnell mopping up the floor in prison for
corruption, it’s a telling comment on those who’ve been put there for reasons
other than wrongdoing.
Or, after John Wayne chest-heaves about having just
won a war, Trumbo comes up with the ultimate put-downer that during the war,
Wayne was on a film set wearing makeup and shooting blanks.
But the tide changes when a strong-as-Spartacus Kirk
Douglas stands up for Trumbo and his screenplay of Spartacus. When President Kennedy endorses Spartacus.
It’s a bit of a fairy tale when Dalton Trumbo comes up
trumps on all fronts – as a family man, as a friend with a generous heart and
as a writer. But you do feel like cheering when the writer of Roman Holiday and The Brave One and Spartacus
finally gets official recognition for his work.
Director Jay Roach gets actors Bryan Cranston as
Trumbo and Helen Mirren as caustic Hedda Hopper to turn in performances that
smoothly blend in with the story. And it is interesting to watch other actors
play John Wayne or Kirk Douglas.
For a story that’s relevant in the times of political
tolerance and democracy, Trumbo gets
a 3* rating.
Reviewed byColumnist & Author
Bharathi S Pradhan