March 13, 2016

Trumbo takes us to a dark time in US history; Carol’s beautifully cool exterior keeps passion at bay


Trumbo ***

Dir:  Jay Roach

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Goodman,David James Elliott

Trumbo strikes a chord at a time when America is being led further down a path of bigotry, hatred, and fascism by a billionaire demagogue. It takes us back to the time - the 1940s and ‘50s - when communism was the bogeyman of the day. Thousands of Americans lost their livelihoods and had their lives destroyed after being (basically illegally) targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee for being (or suspicion of being) either communists or communist sympathisers.

Hollywood didn’t remain immune either. Various actors, writers, producers, directors were called to testify in front of Congress to either disavow communism or to name names and identify colleagues indulging in so-called "un-American" activities. Resultantly, 10 Hollywood luminaries were jailed for contempt of Congress and many others found themselves blacklisted, unable to find any work in Tinseltown. One of the victims of the blacklist was Douglas Trumbo (Bryan Cranston from TV’s Breaking Bad), Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriter at the time. But Trumbo (and some of his fellow screenwriters) were able to find a way of beating the ban, churning out screenplays for (mostly) low-budget productions under various pseudonyms. Ironically, Trumbo even won two Academy Awards for his uncredited scripts (for Roman Holiday and The Brave One) before the blacklist was finally broken when Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger decided to hire Trumbo for their movies and give him full credit.

The movie’s held together by Bryan Cranston’s performance and he was rewarded with an Oscar nomination but Helen Mirren as gossip-columnist Hedda Hopper and John Goodman as producer Frank King are also fun to watch. However, Trumbo is most likely to appeal more to cine-philes for its evocation of Hollywood’s glory age (along with its darker underbelly) and some of its colourful characters. For the more casual movie goer - while it does land a few timely blows – it needed to punch much harder for it to really make the kind of grand statement that it needed to make a mark like its subject.

Cut to chase: Entertaining history lesson which should have punched even harder.


Carol *** ½

Dir:  Todd Haynes

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Jake Lacy, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson, John Magaro

Adapted from Patricia Highsmith novel "The Price Of Salt", Carol tells the tale of two beautiful women coming together at a time when homosexuality was still considered "the love that dare not speak its name". It is 1950s America and homosexuality – lesbianism, in particular – is almost an alien concept, even for the most worldly and sophisticated. The repressive and reactionary era which demanded conformity is depicted in icy, wintery grey tones and the department stores, restaurants, homes, and even motels that are beautifully appointed but cover up certain truths. These also serve as the various locations in which the relationship between the older and sophisticated Carol (Cate Blanchett) and younger, less-worldly Therese (Rooney Mara) develops.

They are both affecting personas to mask their true selves and hide their crushing loneliness. Carol is the haughty socialite, regally dressed and perfectly poised, but struggling to be a dutiful wife and mother. Therese puts on a bohemian air - though she works in a department store she wants to be a photographer, wears a beret and has a vague idea of travelling to Paris with her boyfriend – but knows that something is missing from her life (she has no prior lesbian experience). When Carol walks into Therese’s department store and their eyes lock, they recognise something in each other. Carol desires her, Therese is intoxicated. What follows is their journey towards each other - including a Lolita-esque road trip with stops in various motels across America - but a journey which is not devoid of danger.

Carol works beautifully at one level - powered by excellent performances from its leads - but at the same time its (deliberately) cool exterior keeps us one step removed from the passions underneath. In that it suffers in comparison to the marvellous Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes’ earlier 1950s period piece of suppressed American desires and conventionality. Despite the artifice in its Technicolor-hued, ironical neo-Sirkian façade, Heaven still managed to convey a depth of friction, tension, anger and sadness which Carol doesn’t quite achieve.

Nominated for 6 Academy Awards: Best Actress (Blanchett), Best Supporting Actress (Mara), Best Adapted Screenplay (Phyliss Nagy), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Music - Original Score.

Cut to chase: Beautifully presented but with too cool an exterior.

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