Sunday, November 29, 2015

Trumbo (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Somewhat in the carbonated and episodic manner of the biopic "Hitchcock," with lots of period style and detail, here is "Trumbo" a study of the great but sadly marginalized screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. The film has an energetic buoyant quality, yet it is laced with darkness and does not shy away from the fears of the early 1950s, when right wing conservatism took a deep breath.

We begin in 1948 Hollywood. Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), a Communist,  is starting to feel the itch of judgment all around him. There are rumors of a Cold War and people are starting to talk. The writer who was once nominated for an Oscar wants to do something big but can't quite muster the energy.

Trumbo moves to workers' issues, holding rallies about equal pay for set designers and holds meetings at the home of Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg.) The viper-like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) writes a few insinuating columns about Trumbo and soon he feels a million eyes burrow into his collared shirt.

He pens the film "Roman Holiday." After the premiere, a disgusted movie-goer throws soda in his face. Then during a party, the men arrive; Trumbo is called to testify to the House Un-American Activities Commission. Things don't go well.

The film possesses a swift and rolling cadence. Trumbo retains his spirit throughout as he sees each and every inflexible (and somewhat outrageous) creature with a gimlet eye. Nothing escapes this screenwriter. Cutting Trumbo may be, but he is never sour, despite one year in prison.

Mirren turns in an exclusively nefarious and caustic role as the unsympathetic Hedda, who practically wears fish scales. Stuhlbarg is perfect as the passive Edward G. Robinson, while John Wayne (David James Elliott) is a stiffly robotic blow-hard blinded by the Right.

Trumbo has one ally in the character of Arlen  (Louis C.K.) who is brave to a fault but is increasingly stifled by cancer. He tempers his friend's dire news with some black-humored quips that recall his self deprecating role in TV's "Louie."

The film breezily highlights a tinseltown fringed in fear, a tightly wound community with martinis clutched between talons. Many a wobbly and Brillcreamed head would rather watch a war film than worry. The hissing of a serpent's suggestion comes from the woman in a hat that lays on her head like a poached tongue.

There is some domestic tension with Trumbo's wife Cleo (Diane Lane), and some charged ferocity from his daughter Nikola (Elle Fanning) but for the most part, the conducting is done by Trumbo alone.

"Trumbo" suberbly merges actual newsreels of the era with the actors and this gives it a visceral, contemporary yet ageless texture, putting all within the fabric of living ghosts.

And, while no connection is explicitly made between this wedge-headed hysteria of long ago and the piggish offensiveness in our current times, one wonders how many hellish arms Hedda might have propped up, or just how many orange and angry men John Wayne would have been able to inflame, if the two of them were still living today.

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