The Pollock Theater held an advanced screening of the film Trumbo followed by a Q&A session with the film’s scriptwriter John McNamara and director Jay Roach (of Austin Powers fame) on Sun., Oct. 25, as part of the Script to Screen series. There isn’t a film more suitable to discuss than Trumbo in the Script to Screen series, considering this film is about a crucial time in history for screenwriters: the Hollywood Blacklist.
Trumbo is the true story about the blacklisting of screenwriters (specifically Dalton Trumbo) in the 1940s and 1950s due to their political affiliations. Trumbo was one of the greatest writers in cinematic history, but was blacklisted from the film community due to his affiliations with the Communist Party USA.
Despite the obstacles in his way, Trumbo never cracked. He was a man with a fiery spirit, who put the same amount of passion into all of his writing — whether it was the Oscar winning script of Roman Holiday or the letters to his son about masturbation. His resilience and his love for writing are what drew Roach to the project. When discussing Trumbo’s passion for writing, Roach said, “That’s what hooked me. I knew it would be something a great actor would want to play because he’s so complex.”
Bryan Cranston plays the part of Trumbo in his first major role since the culmination of Breaking Bad. Cranston slips into Trumbo’s skin like a chameleon. He proves that while his time as Walter White may be over, Cranston’s acting career is far from it. His potential is only just being tapped into with this project. When talking about Trumbo’s theatric personality Roach said, “He didn’t just make the argument, he performed them.” Cranston did just that and embodied Trumbo’s bold persona seamlessly.
Much of the conversation post-screening revolved around Cranston. When commenting on his casting, both Roach and McNamara agreed that the film would not have worked with another actor. They felt that any other actor would want the scenes re-written to better suit them, but according to McNamara, “Bryan would play it exactly like Trumbo, and he just nailed it.”
The film is also a career-defining moment for actors Louis C.K. and Elle Fanning, as dying screenwriter Arlen Hird and Trumbo’s daughter Nikola Trumbo respectively. C.K. and Fanning manage to rival Cranston’s chutzpah in every one of their scenes. Diane Lane is convincing but underused as the doting wife and mother, a decision Roach and McNamara consciously made in order to keep the narrative focused more on the blacklist controversy than Trumbo’s personal life. John Goodman is hilarious as the Neanderthal-ish producer who proudly creates trashy films. Helen Mirren acts as the film’s antagonist — journalist Hedda Hopper — in what is possibly her bitchiest role yet. On writing the part of Hopper, McNamara said, “I’ve never written a character who is so unsympathetic.”
Aside from the tremendous cast, the art direction in the film is commendable. The costume design, set design and make-up departments deserve recognition, as do cinematographer Jim Denault and editor Alan Baumgarten. At times, the uniformity of the aesthetics seems comical, like when the characters costumes are perfectly coordinated with the scenery (the walls of the room, the paint job of the car). Thankfully, the films stunning art direction never overpowered the narrative.
Roach and McNamara’s passion for this project can be felt in every scene of this film. The fact that many democratic leaders share similar ideals to those expressed by Dalton Trumbo, and the meteoric rise in popularity of Bernie Sanders, this film is incredibly relevant to today. Despite the political connotations, Trumbo is not a communist propaganda film; it does, however, argue for the tolerance of dissent. It’s a simple film about a workingman who refuses to be bullied by the country that he loves, which makes Trumbo a film that can be admired by both liberals and conservatives alike.
Trumbo will be released in theaters on Nov. 6.