“Trumbo” is a study in American history that should not be forgotten. In the late 1940s, our national government, led by the House Republicans on the Un-American Activities Committee, led a campaign to demonize American citizens who associated with the Communist Party.
Gaining the attention of the national press, this committee soon directed their attention on Hollywood. In the process, they focused on what became known as the “Hollywood Ten,” all but ruining the careers of respected screenwriters. As you watch this film unfold, it is impossible not to be reminded of the attempt of present day House Republicans to destroy the career of Hillary Clinton with their misguided focus on Benghazi.
Dalton Trumbo, here played by Bryan Cranston in a mesmerizing performance, was one of Hollywood’s top screenwriters who refused to buckle under political pressure. Subpoenaed to testify in Washington along with friends that included Arlen Hird (a wonderful performance by Louis C.K.), these gentlemen refused to name names and were subsequently sentenced to serve time in federal prison.
Trumbo’s attempt to fight in the name of justice nearly cost him his livelihood. After being released from prison, his wife (Diane Lane) stood by him with their two children even though they had to sell the farm that they cherished. Trumbo was not a guy who would retreat peacefully.
As Hollywood moguls caved in to the right wing onslaught led by columnist Hedda Hopper and actor John Wayne, Trumbo made a small living under assumed names. He wrote numerous scripts for a movie producer (John Goodman) who specialized in cheesy horror films in order to put food on his table. In addition, he wrote scripts for “Roman Holiday” (1953) and “The Brave One” (1956) where he won Oscars despite the fact that he hid behind surnames.
Director Jay Roach’s film reaches its zenith when actor Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) insists that Trumbo be credited for his script for the memorable “Spartacus” (1960). Followed by director Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) insisting on the same recognition for “Exodus” (1960), Trumbo was able to regain some status despite the carnage being left by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in Washington.
I must admit that I consider this movie a masterpiece in part given the performance of Helen Mirren as the regrettable Hedda Hopper. Hopper’s diatribes were reminiscent of what we are watching play out across this country today from self-appointed pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. Here in Indianapolis we are deluged by a string of ideologues on local radio ranging from Tony Katz to Chicks on the Right, and their daily derision of President Obama is a reminder of the assault suffered by Trumbo and his comrades.
It is worth remembering that Kirk Douglas is still alive at the age of 98. I can’t help but feel that he finds a disturbing similarity between our country’s attempt to demonize Syrian refugees in the same fashion that we tried to scar communists in the 1950s.
“Spotlight” is a brilliant film that forces everyone, including fallen away Catholics like me, to relive the shame that the Church brought upon itself. Despite the inroads made by Pope Francis, the sad reality is that the Roman Catholic Church intentionally hid from the public the fact that some of its priests around the world were child molesters.
In “Spotlight,” director Tom McCarthy presents in heartbreaking fashion how the Boston Globe finally broke this monstrous story in 2001-2002. Because of the difficult work of several admirable reporters, they documented that close to 250 priests in the Boston area had molested over 1,000 children over several decades. With their superiors having full knowledge of their crimes, these priests were simply transferred from one parish to another where they continued their sordid offenses.
Even though you know how the film will end, it leaves you in an increasingly confused state of mind. The performances of an array of wonderful actors create a gravitational pull from the opening scene, yet you are left disgusted with how many priests were protected by the church hierarchy.
Michael Keaton follows his Oscar nominated role in last year’s “Birdman” with his performance as the Globe reporter in charge of the investigation team known as Spotlight. While both John Slattery and Liev Schreiber have significant roles as Keaton’s supervisors, the film focuses on the efforts of Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James as the reporters who gradually uncover an astonishing story. Additionally, Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup are very good as lawyers with conflicting personal goals who represented victims.
As I watched this colossal film, I was reminded of my days in grade school in southern Indiana where I attended a Catholic school. I served Mass for over five years, and I got to know the priests in my Batesville parish quite well. Though I am grateful that nothing inappropriate occurred in that priest/child relationship, I have saved some wonderful stories that are hysterical beyond description.
On the other hand, even though I graduated from Marian College in 1969, a Catholic institution, the church quickly lost any meaning for me. By the time I graduated, I observed several priests leave the church, not the least of whom was a wonderful human being in charge of the theology department whose marriage I attended in the early 1970s.
For all of the criticism inflicted on Muslims in our country today, it is stunning that the Catholic Church still largely succeeds in hiding its shame. Though they turned a blind eye to the sad fact that thousands of their priests were molesting children, they still want us to follow their lead as they discriminate against women with their stand on gay marriage, abortion, contraceptives and the denial of women in the priesthood.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.