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Trumbo

Year: 2015
Production Co: Groundswell Productions
Director: Jay Roach
Writer: John McNamara/Bruce Cook
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Michael Stuhlbarg, Helen Mirren, Elle Fanning, Louis CK, Alan Tudyk, John Goodman, Stephen Root, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Dean O'Gorman

The Austin Powers movies were good, but this is director Jay Roach's true niche – finding actors who look somewhat like historical figures and giving us a true story with a few extra brushstrokes for dramatic flair.

Everybody involved – from the actors finding characters to the writer finding the story – take cues from real life but lean just far enough in the direction of melodrama to make it all cinematic, and the result is effortlessly watchable and surprisingly fun even while you have a sense it isn't the gritty, definitive account of what actually happened.

And though Roach and screenwriter John McNamara have obviously set out to entertain, there's also a good potted history of the Hollywood 10 here if you don't know anything about the history.

It's the roaring 40s, postwar optimism is high and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and his contemporaries are riding high in Hollywood on critical acclaim and lucrative contracts. But, aided by the likes of pro-Republican John Wayne (David James Elliot) and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), the red paranoia of the House Un-American Activities Committee is descending.

With writers, directors and actors squealing on each other left and right to save their careers, Trumbo stands his ground and is thrown in jail, a scapegoat for the Red Scare and the focal point for the hatred the Committee and its political attack dogs whipped up amongst the public with the collusion of the studios.

When Trumbo gets back to his supportive and loving family, he finds himself firmly on the Hollywood blacklist. He approaches the King brothers, no-nonsense, Corman-esque creature feature producers who need scripts cheap, fast and barely even good for their production line genre flicks.

Before long, Trumbo has a cottage industry going on with several friends and peers that earns him a living again, but it's all done in secret and the stress is causing both himself and his family to crumble, especially as his teenage daughter Nicki (Fanning) is finding her political conscience and just wants a father who supports her.

As always there's a unique pleasure in seeing real historical figures portrayed on screen. Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G Robinson and Dean O'Gorman as Kirk Douglas – overseeing production of Spartacus and making sure Trumbo gets his first screen credit in years – are both uncanny.

You're also not prepared by just how entertaining and at times laugh-out-loud funny it is, which keeps it from being a stuffy history lesson and has probably subconsciously put some critics off who dismiss it as fluff. When John Goodman as schlockmaster Frank King responds to a threat of getting Trumbo's name in the newspaper and blowing his lifeline with 'go ahead, the people who come to my movies can't even fuckin read' it's funnier than plenty of lines in plenty of so-called comedies.

Neither the script nor the roles are showy, though you can see the work Cranston has put in to give Trumbo a little bit of the flair the man had in real life, and it's a crowd-pleasing flick that wants to work for an audience more than scratch its chin and be about art or truth.

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