4/5 MUST must see SEE
dir Jay Roach
scr John McNamara
prd Kevin Kelly Brown, Monica Levinson, Michael London, Nimitt Mankad, John McNamara, Shivani Rawat, Janice Williams
with Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, John Goodman, Elle Fanning, Louis CK, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, Roger Bart, David James Elliott, Dean O'Gorman, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
release US 6.Nov.15, UK 5.Feb.16
15/US 2h04
I've got my eye on you: Mirren and Cranston

lane goodman fanning
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Trumbo It's a good thing this film has a sharp screenplay, since it's about one of Hollywood's most notorious screenwriters. Sharp, funny and cleverly resonant, this true drama explores a grim period in American history with intelligence and emotion. And it's packed with superb performances from a skilled cast.

The film industry's top-paid screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo (Cranston) was called to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 about his involvement in the communist party during the war. He and nine fellow screenwriters refused to testify, were sent to prison for contempt and blacklisted by the studios, who were egged on by powerful columnist Hedda Hopper (Mirren). With the support of his wife Cleo (Lane), Dalton carried on writing under pseudonyms, mainly schlock movies for producer Frank King (Goodman), but also two scripts that won Oscars. The blacklist lasted until 1960.

Roach directs the film in a sunny style that recreates the period in all its squeaky clean glory then fills scenes with thematic shadows. The central issue is America's need for a simplistic villain, and watching the forces line up against people simply for their philosophical beliefs is terrifying, labelling anyone who stands against the system as a traitorous Russian spy. This sometimes makes the aggressors rather simplistic, from Elliott as John Wayne and Mirren's sneering Hopper to newsreel footage of Nixon, Reagan and of course McCarthy.

But the victims of this witch hunt have a remarkable complexity, as do the people who caved in under the pressure. Cranston shines as a bullheaded man who never misses a chance to make a rousing speech (one colleague complains that everything he says sounds like it's engraved in stone). And this passion comes at a price, offering meaty, engaging roles for supporting cast members including Lane, Goodman, Fanning (as Trumbo's daughter), CK (as a fellow writer) and Stuhlbarg (as actor Edward G Robinson).

Clearly, this film is cathartic for Hollywood, as it depicts the slavering media and government as the true villains. But Roach and screenwriter McNamara can't spin this into a triumph: this is the film industry's biggest failure, and lives were ruined. The balance has been redressed over the years, with Trumbo eventually named on his Oscars for Roman Holiday and The Brave One. And in actors and filmmakers who are still marginalised for their gender, sexuality or personal opinions, it's clear that this is a lesson studios still need to learn.

cert 15 themes, language 8.Oct.15

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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall