Comrades in Hollywood

Trumbo, dir. Jay Roach
Reviewed by Aleksandar Vasilkov

I had a vague idea of who Dalton Trumbo was before I saw this film. As a penniless student in Copenhagen, I was expected to be working on my thesis on Aldous Huxley, but instead spent my days busking and my evenings bartending. Still, from time to time I managed to read a book by or on Huxley, and I learned about his brief spell as an outrageously overpaid screenwriter in Hollywood. Fascinated as I was, and still am, by Hollywood, I read more about its origins, structure, and internal mechanics. I discovered that screenwriters are unionized in a guild. I discovered that some of them were even members of the Communist Party USA. 

Dalton Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten – writers and directors accused of Communist sympathies or downright membership of the Communist Party USA. These men were blacklisted, barred from work, subpoenaed, fined, jailed. Their careers were destroyed, and some even died in the midst of the ordeal. After many years of writing anonymously or under other authors’ names, Trumbo was finally recognized as the author of his own work.

We are at the outset of the Cold War and another Red Scare is brewing in America. Dalton Trumbo, a successful and wealthy Hollywood screenwriter, turns out to be a devoted Communist willing to offer a serious fight in defence of his beliefs (He may be delusional about Communism, but it is his right to be delusional). The Hollywood establishment quickly organizes to crush him. Snide remarks, flippant Dosvidanyas in front of his children. Anonymous threats from neighbours. Subpoenas from Congress, jail. Cranston is extremely convincing as a loving, if distant, father and husband who risks it all in the pursuit of what he believes is right (major Breaking Bad flashbacks). Dame Helen Mirren is marvelous as the main antagonist. John Goodman is as funny as ever in a small role. 

This film is a reflection on the potent power of paranoia, the tendency to see enemies everywhere, to stir up scares, to bully and silence. It is a must-see for anyone serious about freedom of speech and freedom of expression.