I was quite pleasantly surprised by this movie; I had certainly had hopes that it would be good, but the trailer was unconvincing. But the film’s take is different than I expected. Despite the fact that the film is about the Blacklist and, in a climactic speech, Trumbo ruminates on the real emotional, financial and physical damage done by it, the movie is mainly interested in being a bit of a lark. It has a light touch and a breezy pace. I can’t recall ever seeing a biopic that was this funny; I laughed out loud over and over again, as did the rest of the people in the theater with me. Maybe that’s how Trumbo himself would have wanted it. The cast is really great. Cranston is pitch perfect as Trumbo, of course. Helen Mirren gives her best performance in years as vitriolic gossip columnist Hedda Hopper; she’s a great villain and in her final scene, the movie even gives her the dignity of some small sympathy. Michael Stuhlbarg, an actor I’m finally starting to really notice, nearly walks off with the movie as Edward G. Robinson; Stuhlbarg, wisely, doesn’t attempt a much of an imitation, but he finds the real heart of the character. The character arc of Robinson is sharply written and in this story line the emotions actually get real and evocative. A section where Trumbo and his fellow Blacklisted writers take jobs writing hack b-movies for John Goodman is easily the funniest section, a pure delight of entertainment. I actually quite liked the way the film used the famous movie stars; the attempt to really do great imitations was secondary, I think, to really creating an impression. David James Elliott is also quite good as John Wayne, even though he downplays the drawl and doesn’t really look like him at all; it’s the imposing figure he cuts and the steely eyed glare that makes you believe it. Anyway, I found this movie consistently entertaining, often hilarious and occasionally surprisingly emotional. It’s a tough balancing act, but the movie pulls it off. I went into this movie hoping it wouldn’t be too bad. It ended up being great. 4 stars.
tl;dr – story of Blacklisted writer manages to be hilariously funny and also emotionally powerful; a smart script and a fantastic ensemble elevate this Hollywood drama to classic status. 4 stars.