Fresh out of WWII and with a brand new Red Menace to worry about, fear-mongering right-wing American politicians decided that Hollywood was crawling with commies embedding secret messages in their films, and undertook the task of not letting them work if they didn’t “name names.”

One of the most visible, and certainly vocal, victims of this HUAC madness was Dalton Trumbo, the writer of Roman Holiday, Spartacus, Exodus, and dozens of other classics (often uncredited, ghost-written). This irascible curmudgeon, who worked in his bathtub, defied this notorious blacklist and triumphed.  

Jay Roach’s ever-so-slightly hagiographic movie is of course driven by a spot-on, just-hammy-enough title performance by Brian Cranston (“Breaking Bad”). But the supporting cast doesn’t make a wrong turn. Helen Mirren gets to play the villain with a delicious performance as the bigoted gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, darling of the Hollywood Right. Also Alan Tudyk, Diane Lane, Michael Stuhlbarg, and a surprisingly effective Louis C.K.

What amazed me was how a film about one of America’s most shameful periods could be so uplifting and, thanks to John McNamara’s knowledgeable, jovial screenplay, quite fun to watch, all while managing to avoid undercutting the seriousness of the issue.

It’s a great story, well-written, and entertainingly told. It’s also more than a little topical, given the fear tactics currently being employed by a certain orange-colored presidential candidate. Stick around for the closing credits. Japanese title: Trumbo: Hollywood ni Mottomo Kirawareta Otoko. (124 min)