Dalton Trumbo was among the many ‘commies’ that lived and worked in different corners of the United States after World War II. The last of the tragic human madness was done and the Cold War had two ideologies trying to one-up each other in the guise of a battle for survival. Some followers of one of the ideologies, the students of Marxism, created the Communist Party of America. What were they thinking, right? What place does a Communist Party have in the haven of modern day Capitalism and a country that is the beacon of hope, democracy and freedom? Well, this country’s response to such activities was to blacklist these artists, writers, actors, and social activists and spend time, money and public resources to discredit them and literally destroy their livelihoods and their lives.
Dalton Trumbo was one such artist. Recognized as one of the greatest screenwriters of his time, he was a resident writer at MGM Studios when the Congressional Committee for Un-American Activities was set up in 1945. Trumbo huddles together with his ‘comrades’ to figure out the best way to (not) respond to these attempts by the government to target and as a result, persecute them. But surprisingly, the government is not alone in this. Once it is public that Trumbo and his gang were ex-Communists, or even sympathizers of the Socialist movement, they were branded ‘traitors,’ ‘un-American,’ ‘Soviet spies’… you name it. Finding themselves excluded by the Hollywood community, they struggle to find work, support families and are ostracized in the worst ways possible. Some of them (including Trumbo) end up serving time, which in their words was for basically having ‘committed no crime.’
Trumbo, played by Bryan Cranston, is obviously the star of the film and carries the weight of retribution for all the outcasts of Hollywood. Cornered by the media, the studios and superstars like John Wayne, he fights his way out of the dark hole of being a ‘blacklisted communist.’ After a few years in prison, he comes out and starts writing quick, B-grade films for a lesser known studio. He also ropes in his former comrades by handing out script cleanups and re-writes to them. The earnings begin to stream in and soon Trumbo is writing constantly, non-stop, all the time. While the rough and tumble of the fringes of Hollywood occupy him, his family is living a life of their own. His three children are growing up and slowly feeling neglected by the father they idealize, and for his oldest Nicola, someone she wishes to emulate. His wife, played stunningly with quiet strength by Diane Lane, holds everything together.
Soon Trumbo starts to write under fake names/pseudonyms and has his friends sell his scripts to end up as Oscar winning blockbusters. Roman Holiday and The Brave One both won Oscars under the names of people who didn’t exist. Trumbo sits in the comfort of his living room, feeling elated and deprived of what is rightfully his.
The perseverance of the man who loved his art form, loved to write and was brilliant at what he did paces the film and keeps your eyes glued to this modest looking man, who only let his ideas define him. Sitting in his bathtub, cutting and taping together pieces that are his scenes, he writes the most compelling scripts. His was a fight for freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of being able to hold an opinion, even if it was the minority against a well placed, powerful, vocal majority.
After close to a decade of living in the shadows, finally Trumbo is able to come out to the world and claim his success for the films he wrote and the awards he never received. His singular and unfettered strength was his wife Cleo, from start to finish, who didn’t falter and always kept him in check. Though Trumbo succeeds in the end, he remembers that so many didn’t and were lost to the tyranny of a powerful foe that wanted to suppress the one right all of us deserve above all else: to be.
Trumbo is currently playing in theatres.