Both vehicles were strong releases – one even strong enough to garner an Academy nomination. Both were dominated by leads who, without doubt, were also worthy of their respective consideration for gold statues due to their fine performances. As I have seen neither ‘The Room’ nor ‘The Revenant’ I cannot pronounce on the decision to go with their stars for the top acting gongs, but without doubt DiCaprio has been overdue for some time. As for ‘Spotlight’ being the best film of the last twelve months, I really have my doubts. It was a story that needed to be told, but the telling thereof had its faults in my view. It lacked the quality of the other nominated offerings I have viewed – indeed it lacked the quality of the two examined here – one set in the famous New York borough of Brooklyn in the 50s, the other in a quite well known suburb of Los Angeles, also in the 50s. Increasing the pleasure of going to the cinema to take in these two movies, I was accompanied my my lovely lady. It always makes for a better experience receiving her opinions on what was projected up there on the silver screens at the State.
Let’s start with the one that took us back to a dark period in the story of last century’s film-making – the blacklisting of the Hollywood 10. I guess the climate in those years would be similar to our own present one with the so-called Wall on Terror. As is the case today with Muslim extremism, many pollies back then saw it was in their political interest to beat up the threat of communism for all it was worth. It was the Cold War. ‘Reds under the bed’, ‘the only good commie a dead commie’ and all that nonsense. They were all undesirables to be ferreted out and at all costs, revealed for all to see. Even if the connection was only tenuous, or there had been a mere flirtation with the Communist Party in the heady days of youth, it mattered not. And some of Hollywood’s finest became caught up in the net. Many were imprisoned and all were blacklisted, i.e. they lost their livelihoods. One of the victims was Dalton Trumbo, a scriptwriter with a golden touch.
Although perhaps a tad slow to get going, once this movie had a head of steam up it was quite a ride. ‘Breaking Bad’s’ Bryan Cranston was superb as the idiosyncratic, workaholic Trumbo – a whiskey fuelled wordsmith and force of nature. He often produced his scripts in the bath due to a bad back. Many, I find, like Trumbo, do their best work in a sudsy tub. But then, almost stealing the show, was John Goodman as a B-grade movie mogul. He didn’t give a toss about who he should or shouldn’t employ. He just needed people to churn out scripts that only had to be literate to get the thumbs up. Enter Trumbo, fresh out of prison, in desperate need of work so he took on all Goodman’s character had to offer. And some of what he produced turned out to be purlers – so word started getting around. Goodman provides most of the levity in what otherwise could have been a pretty depressing journey, despite the ultimate outcome. Diane Lane is solid as Trumbo’s loyal, stoic wife and as we’d expect, Helen Mirren is all class as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. She’s a red hater from way back. Her part in the movie, though, was historically inaccurate.
Paul Byrnes makes this point in a recent review and marks ‘Trumbo’ down as a result. He objected to the fact that the film introduced characters that didn’t exist in real life, ignoring others who had a major role in proceedings. Regular readers will know my take on all that. John Wayne doesn’t come out smelling of roses here and we get an interesting performance from Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G Robinson, caught between a rock and a hard place as the McCarthy hearings probe the communist affiliations of the film world. No doubt Michael Douglas would be rapt as it turns out his venerable dad (Dean O’Gorman) truly was the great American hero (in this telling, that is).
As well as dissing director Jay Roach for the film’s historical porkies, the Age critic also had a go at the screenwriter John McNamara’s failure in making Louis CK’s fictional role a composite of the other nine victims imprisoned for their political leanings. So, out of five stars, here are the ratings:-
Paul Byrnes ***½ Lovely Lady ****½ Blue Room ****
Now lets jump across to the Atlantic side of the US of A to NYC where, in the post-war years, that country, as well as persecuting undesirables, was allowing in many desirables in the guise of refugees from yet another Irish diaspora. It was hard times back in Eire and Eilis Lacey was hoping it would all be better for her across the ocean. She’s a reserved, small town gal – bit of a mouse to look at, you’d think, on first impressions. But look closely, especially at those eyes. There’s verification if one needs it that first impressions can deceive. Almost as soon as she’s through those Ellis Island doors a gorgeousness emerges that’s plain for all the world to see. Mentoring her on the other side is warm-hearted priest Father Flood (a warm-heated turn from Jim Broadbent) and soon she is set with accommodation, boarding-house style, with a job thrown in. Julie Walter’s landlady is a star performance, so much so that it’s reportedly the basis for a new television series being developed for the Beeb. Mad Man’s Jessica Paré also catches the eye as her soft-centred floor-walking overseer, keeping her on her toes behind a department store counter. Miss Fortini knows more about her charges than they could ever suspect.
The movie has, in itself, been described as a throwback to those golden years of Tinsel Town in the fifties when its product did not require lashings of beneath the sheets activity to establish a relationship between the leads in a movie with romantic pretensions. The first of Eilis’ beaux is not a fellow Irish fella but Tony (Emory Cohen), a plumber of Italian stock. His role, for me, is one of this offering’s highlights. How could she not be charmed by him? Our bonny lass is eventually, but it took some doing on Tony’s part. As the relationship develops director John Crowley warms up the film’s colour palette and Eilis emerges from dowdy garb to become quite the girl about town.
But a sudden death back home changes all this, causing Eilis to rush back to the Emerald Isle. Now she stands out for her sophistication in her grey little burb. Soon she’s the centre of attention with one and all conspiring to keep her away from boarding a liner back to the New World. And it’s made harder to do so by the entry of another love interest, played with sensitivity by up-and-comer Domhnall Gleeson. We know Eilis has taken a secret with her back to Erin. And that really puts a spanner in the works.
As with yours truly, Paul B fell head over heels for the charms of this recent release, one that missed out on the best picture gong at the Oscars. I would have been joyous if it had bettered the lacklustre ‘Spotlight’, but that was not to be. Byrnes describes Nick Hornby’s script work, based on Colm Toibin’s 2009 novel as ‘…one of his best: economic, unforced, expressive, not in the least theatrical.’ He states that Hornby left room for ‘…shiploads (pun?) of emotion, distributed widely across the characters.’ ‘Brooklyn’ was, for this viewer, one lovely cinematic experience. If only there were more of its ilk.
Paul Brynes ****½ Lovely Lady ***½ Blue Room ****½
‘Trumbo’ trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_y_Pj–igG4
‘Brooklyn’ trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szRFS4NO6f8