“There were no good guys or bad guys—only victims,” reflects Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) in a tear-streaked speech. Despite this sentiment, Trumbo does have good guys, bad guys, and victims. Trumbo himself is not so much a victim as a pragmatic liberal superhero who says, “The radical may fight with the purity of Jesus. But the rich guy wins with the cunning of Satan.” If there is a devil incarnate in Trumbo, it’s Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), a Hollywood columnist with tight reigns on the vox populi. An avowed patriot, she wants leftists like Trumbo out of the business, threatening MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, “Does the moviegoing public need to be reminded that Mayer is really Lazar Meir, born in Minsk? That Samuel Goldwyn was born in Warsaw as Szmuel Gelbfisz?” Mayer succumbs, firing Trumbo, who’s brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee and then jailed. From the quiet but unnecessary score by Theodore Shapiro to the beat-by-beat take on the story, Trumbo is Oscar bait. Louis C.K., John Goodman, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje provide hilarious turns; the movie’s Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) calls Leon Uris’s Exodus “an almost perfect piece of shit.” In addition to the inside jokes, Trumbo depicts 1950’s Hollywood in detail, clouds of smoke suspended in most scenes. And lying in wait behind that smoke is a cautionary Public Service Announcement about the First Amendment.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White