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Trumbo  : Writers Blocked
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Friday, February 12, 2016
Drama
Jay Roach
Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K

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 studios.

 

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 by
Bharathi S Pradhan

Columnist & Author
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