Bleecker Street                     124 Minutes                              R

What would you do if your freedom and career depended on testimony before Congress that would question your patriotism and loyalty? That’s the core of the fascinating movie starring Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo, Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriter of the late 1940’s.

He went to jail and was Blacklisted for refusing to tell the House UnAmerican Activities Committee whether or not he belonged to the Communist Party. And for refusing to point the finger at fellow filmmakers. That witch hunt went on for 10 years.

This is serious stuff. But Trumbo is witty, sarcastic, and ironic while defending and supporting freedom of speech and expression. It’s presented in an entertaining way by what some may consider an unlikely choice, Director Jay Roach, who’s best known for such comedies as Austin Powers and Meet the Fockers.

After spending 2 hours with Bryan Cranston as Trumbo, you won’t think immediately of him only in the addictive Breaking Bad TV series. He completely takes on the character of this irrascible, eccentric,  prolific mustachioed writer who won Oscars for The Brave One and the classic Audrey Hepburn film, Roman Holiday. But he couldn’t accept or collect them.

He and the Hollywood 10 screenwriters had to write in secret to keep working. He ended up working for “schlock” studio led by Frank King played by John Goodman. Interesting to note that this is the 3rd time Goodman has played a movie mogul. Both “The Artist” and “Argo” won Oscars for best picture. Will there be a trifecta?

This killed reputations, careers and relationships for so many filmmakers affected but the fear of Communism during the Cold War. The story takes us between Trumbo's public and private life showing how the fear of Communism affected careers, reputations, and relationships during the Cold War. Trumbo leads the Hollywood 10 into the Lion’s Den (HUAC) while trying to keep his family housed and fed.

Diane Lane as wife Cleo is loving, supporting and stoic. Elle Fanning plays daughter Niki, who is not only a beauty, but she creates an interesting character that’s a younger and spunkier reflection of her father. Fanning is strong in the role. She’s compelling and commands attention in every scene she appears. Especially when she challenges her father as he works out of his bathtub, pasting lines of script together and smoking like a chimney. (Loved seeing Cranston interact with the family bird.) In his case, it built a supportive family. Cranston says he spoke extensively with both of Trumbo’s daughters and kept doing research until he felt he locked up the character.  

The situation also built stronger friendships with fellow writers, like Trumbo with Arlen Hird, played by Louis C.K. Their scenes showing their frustration and outrage explain a lot about the bizarre situation. The writers were neither traitors, nor collaborators. Trumbo points out that there are no villains here, but plenty of victims. Great character development here. They play naturally off each other with wit and humor.

Helen Mirren is extraordinary as Hedda Hopper, the powerful Hollywood Gossip Columnist who was Trumbo’s arch enemy. She had 35 million readers and could take someone down if she wanted to. She was determined to bring down the writers and others on the Blacklist and plays evil with glee in this film. Plus her outfits topped off with those ridiculous hats are something to see.

Michael Suthlbarg (Steve Jobs, Boardwalk Empire) plays Edward G. Robinson who was conflicted but did end up collaborating with the Committee in order to get work. He does a more than credible job showing Robinson’s guilt-ridden frustration and how it destroyed his own marriage and friendships.

Enter the filmmakers brave enough to put an end to the madness. Christian Berkel who hired Trumbo for Exodus and Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas who asked the blacklisted writer to tackle Spartacus, but do it using his real name.

Is this worth your bucks? Seeing Cranston and Mirren in this story of Hollywood history is definitely is worth the price of admission. Turbo was a major personality. There’s a lot of period detail in a film that shows his interaction on so many fronts. It’s a tough subject and could have been hard to follow, but it flows well and we think highly entertaining. This story still resonates in America today where freedom of expression, religion and speech are constantly challenged in the name of national security. You may think this is a writer’s story, but it’s much more than that.