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sábado, 6 de fevereiro de 2016
Trumbo review: 'a preening Oscar bid'
Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo fought bravely against his McCarthy-era blacklisting. He deserved better than this try-hard biopic
The Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo joined the Communist Party in 1943, when America was allied with the Soviets and you could just about get away with it. Come 1947, when Trumbo starts, his open embrace of radical politics was beginning to look like career suicide.
That year, he became one of the Hollywood Ten – the group of Leftist writers and directors who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and found themselves blacklisted from film production. To pay the bills, they went underground for an entire decade, writing hackwork under pseudonyms, or letting colleagues take the credit, until America’s pathological fear of the Red menace blew over.
Still bitterly contested, this grim period in the industry’s history could and should be the stuff of a terrific, angry film. Irwin Winkler’s Guilty by Suspicion (1991) wasn’t it; nor was Frank Darabont’s The Majestic (2001). And Trumbo isn’t either, thanks to an overegged desire to please that comes off it like flopsweat. It’s too cartoonish and cosy by half, a sort of Punch-and-Judy-show rendition of a fascinating man’s professional crisis.
You can absolutely see what attracted Bryan Cranston to the role. Trumbo did most of his writing in the bath – pen in one hand, cigarette holder dangling from the other. He was exceptionally articulate, clever and droll, and he never gave up the fight.
These are plum ingredients for a star of Cranston’s versatility to cook with – not unlike the vain eccentricities of Truman Capote, asnailed magnificently by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the 2005 biopic. Here, though, we get a preening Oscar bid – and, alas, a successful one, with Cranston winning a nomination for Best Actor. Having been secretly the best thing in both Argo and Drive, Cranston's certainly overdue a nod, but this distractingly fussy performance is trying too hard.
His director, Jay Roach, is best known for the Austin Powers movies, and this is ripely stylised acting from Planet Mike Myers: virtuosic, in its way. You just wish they’d kept a lid on the ham.
The emotional core of the movie is Trumbo’s dogged survival. He sold his ranch in California, moved to Mexico with his wife Jean (Diane Lane, primly anxious as per usual), and got work on Poverty Row for the producer Frank King, a straight-talking vulgarian of such mercenary showman’s appetites it’s movie law he should be played by John Goodman.
Kirk Douglas, impersonated in one of the film’s better turns by Dean O’Gorman, threw Trumbo a lifeline when he commissioned a complete rewrite of Spartacus and let him take the credit. By this point in the late 1950s, the Academy had already garlanded the Trumbo oeuvre with two screenplay Oscars (for Roman Holiday and The Brave One) without even knowing he’d written them.
Because Trumbo never misses a blatant trick, script-wise, we get the suspense of these awards shows unfolding in the Trumbo family living room. One very skilful technical feat is blending black-and-white recreations of HUAC testimony with archive shots of Ronald Reagan, Robert Taylor and others delivering their speeches – seamlessly done, and worthy of the trickery in Forrest Gump. You could say Trumbo gets a lot of these tiny things right, and it’s the huge things that go badly awry.
“There were no heroes or villains, only victims,” Trumbo once said of the era that threw him out on his ear. It’s a good line for a biopic to grab when it’s summing up. The trouble is, it belies the rest of Roach’s simplistic movie utterly. The villains here, barring the relative pity afforded to turncoat star Edward G Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), are almost Disney-ish in their cackling obviousness – none more so than Hedda Hopper, the notorious gossip columnist who waged a weekly smear campaign against Trumbo and his associates, blackening their names whenever she got the chance.
Helen Mirren plays Hedda as an insinuating gorgon in fabulous clothes – a different hat for each day. It’s the easiest move in the world to make her look hateful. She uses “kike” as an insult, blackmails Louis B Mayer, and addresses fellow conservatives at a political rally which has been clothed, doubtless accurately but very point-scoringly, in swastika red-and-black.
There’s no complexity for Mirren to play, just a whole load of great outfits for her to swish around in while she drops her vicious barbs. You more or less want her killed, which isn’t true of the screen’s most compelling Cruella de Vils.
No one’s defending Hedda Hopper – perhaps she gets the film she deserved, really. But Dalton Trumbo was owed a better one.