Posted on November 12, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Copyright 2015 Bleeker Street
Copyright 2015 Bleeker Street
The post-WWII era was one of great relief and great fear. The Nazis had been defeated, but at the cost of bringing into the world the horror of atomic weapons. It was a certainty that the next war would be the last. The US could not last as the only superpower. The communists would do anything to get the bomb, and once they had it, no one was safe.

And that is why, just after the United States fought to preserve liberty and freedom of speech, those very ideals began to seem like a threat to our safety. And when there is a threat, there will be demagogues who prey on people’s fears to make themselves more powerful. That was the case in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s when Americans became so terrified of communism that the very idea someone might have been or known a communist was enough to get them fired and blacklisted — unless they were willing to “name names” and give investigators a list of other people to investigate. It was a kind of perverse pyramid scheme.

That is what happened to Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), one of Hollywood’s most successful and highest paid screenwriters. He was also a member of the Communist Party. The idea that somehow screenwriters would brainwash moviegoers into becoming communists was such a threat that he and nine other writers who refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee were blacklisted (not allowed to work in Hollywood anymore). Trumbo was sent to prison for contempt (refusal to cooperate).

When he came out, he managed to find work by getting other writers to put their names on the scripts he created (including two Oscar-winners) and by writing scripts at a fraction of his previous salary for a schlock producer (hilariously played by John Goodman).

Director Jay Roach creates the world of Trumbo, fiercely intelligent and committed. Cranston is excellent as Trumbo, every line of his posture and every gesture showing us the the active intelligence of the man who took his own struggle for freedom and turned it into one of the greatest lines in movie history: “I am Spartacus!” As he types madly away from his bathtub (to ease his back pain) and fights to find work for the other blacklisted writers, he never loses his sense of amusement at the folly around him. He is skeptical, even cynical at times but never loses his sense of optimism that even something good can be made better.

Parents should know that this film includes strong language, some crude references, brief non-sexual nudity, drinking, smoking, and drug use, and some tense and disturbing scenes.

Family discussion: What themes of this film are particularly relevant today? What should Trumbo have done? How did his experience influence his films? Why was it important to pay back the money?

If you like this, try: Trumbo’s films, including “Spartacus,” “Roman Holiday,” and “Lonely Are the Brave” and other films about this ear like “The Front” and “Goodnight and Good Luck”

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