In all the reviews we’ve examined of Trumbo, the Bryan Cranston film that shamelessly whitewashes Stalinism and one of its loyal servants in mid-century America, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, there are only a couple that don’t seem to be utterly befogged by dangerous delusions about the nature of Stalinism. One is by Alissa Wilkinson of Christianity Today, who writes in part:
Anyone attempting to understand how a person could reasonably claim to love America and also be committed to Communist ideals will not be helped here; the movie suggests that being a Communist is basically like being a little to the left of a liberal Democrat. The explanation is as caricatured as the opposition. In fact, the principles of Communism are literally reduced to an illustration Trumbo gives his young daughter, whilst she sits astride a horse, involving sharing a sandwich with a hungry schoolmate.
The film also gives us no reasonable or rational detractors on the other side; they’re all kind of the worst, which is more ironic given Trumbo’s early pleas to his friends to not demonize people they haven’t met.
Well done, Ms. Wilkinson. But you’re almost too kind to Trumbo; the guy who really takes off the gloves is Godfrey Cheshire, who, writing at the Roger Ebert site, calls it “another of those simplistic, made-to-order films about the Hollywood blacklist in which the blacklisted movie folks are all innocent, in every conceivable way.” Noting that the DVD jacket copy on a recent documentary about Trumbo described the screenwriter as having been “blacklisted by the House Un-American Committee,” Cheshire points out that “HUAC never blacklisted anyone”; it was the Hollywood studios (who now, in their movies, prefer to shift the guilt to Washington, D.C.) who blacklisted writers and others. Cheshire also notes that Trumbo omits
any sense of the utter contempt that Trumbo and his communist cohorts felt for liberals, who, in fact, they often regarded with more enmity than they did right-wingers. But that makes sense, of course. The communists were hoping for a revolution to overthrow American democracy. A takeover by fascists would only hasten that result, they thought; successful liberalism could only impede it.
Of all these reviewers, in short, only a couple seem to grasp that you can’t make a First Amendment hero out a man who championed a dictatorship that executed people for expressing the wrong opinions. And you can’t teach a “vital lesson in democracy” (to quote Joe Neumaier’s blinkered Time review of Trumbo) by making a hero out of a man who was one of democracy’s sworn enemies.