Nov 26, 2015

Cranston is arguably the leading contender for best actor Oscar.


Grade: A

Director: Jay Roach (Meet the Fockers)

Screenplay: John McNamara from Bruce Cook book

Cast: Bryan Cranston (Argo), Diane Lane (Secretariat)

Rating: R

Runtime: 124 min.

by John DeSando

"I'm a screenwriter; if I couldn't write shit, I'd starve." Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston)

Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was a real hero in a world that manufactures tin ones.  As depicted in Trumbo, he fights for the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, stands up to the Congressional Communist hunters of HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee), and is blacklisted with nine other Hollywood writers.

Along the way he pens three certifiable classics, for which he receives the Oscar: The Brave One, Spartacus, and Exodus.  Add scores of other films of which he could be measurably praised, and you have one of the greatest screen writers of all time.

Played superbly by Cranston, Trumbo is not a flamboyant, artsy guy—he does his job from a bathtub, and he’s not beneath writing for a schlock producer, Frank King (John Goodman), when his family needs the money.  Cranston gives him a gravity leavened by comedy (see quote above) that makes the biopic an enjoyable entertainment and an accurate slice of fifties Cold War paranoia.

What’s that you say? Helen Mirren always plays likeable characters! NOT. Here she channels Hedda Hopper, the influential Hollywood gossip columnist, who takes on the Communist writers with the help of conservative John Wayne (James Elliot) and almost wins. She is unlikeable. With Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger daring to put Trumbo’s name as writer for their Spartacus and Exodus respectively, and President Kennedy announcing his favor of Spartacus, the blacklist dies a deserved death. Hopper goes away with her head between her legs.

Ironically, such an ultraconservative stance by Wayne doesn’t seem to hurt his legacy as an American icon, nor does the dream factory suffer much considering the legislators’ witch hunt. The real deal here is an Oscar-worthy drama going in my mind neck and neck for the best of 2015 along with Spotlight.

An embarrassment of riches if you ask me!

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at