Based upon the true story of Dalton Trumbo, black listed from Hollywood for being a member of the Communist Party. Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, John Wayne & Kirk Douglas directly influenced Trumbo’s life.
Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is a screenwriter whose talent places him among the elite of Hollywood. However, his active membership in the Communist Party of the USA draws the contempt of staunchly anti-Soviet entertainment-industry figures such as columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and actor John Wayne (David James Elliott).
Trumbo is one of 10 screenwriters subpoenaed to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities(HUAC) regarding alleged Communist propaganda in Hollywood films. They refuse to directly answer questions, confident that a liberal majority on the Supreme Court will overturn the convictions for contempt of Congress. Trumbo’s friend Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), who supports the cause, sells the Portrait of Père Tanguy to raise money for their legal defense fund.
The unexpected death of Justice Wiley Rutledge ruins Trumbo’s plan to appeal to the Supreme Court. In 1950, Trumbo serves 11 months in Texarkana prison, where he meets former HUAC chairman J. Parnell Thomas, who was convicted of tax evasion.
As the Hollywood Blacklist expands to exclude more communists and communist sympathizers from working in the industry, Trumbo and his comrades are abandoned by Robinson and producer Buddy Ross (Roger Bart), who disavow them to protect their careers. Trumbo is released from prison, but he remains blacklisted and his finances – and family life – become increasingly strained. He resorts to giving the screenplay for Roman Holiday to his friend Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk), to take credit and a share of the money, and eventually the Academy Award for Best Story. Selling his idyllic lakeside home and moving to a house in the city, he goes to work as a pseudonymous screenwriter for the low-budget King Brothers Productions, also farming out the writing of B-movie screenplays to fellow blacklisted writers. He puts his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and teenage children to work as his support staff, adding to domestic conflict. King Brothers’ film The Brave One, an original story by Trumbo under a pseudonym, receives an Academy Award he cannot claim. His blacklisted friend Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) dies, destitute, but an attempt by Hopper’s allies to intimidate the head of King Brothers to fire Trumbo fails completely.
Over time, industry suspicion of Trumbo’s ghostwriting develops, but he is careful not to confirm it. In 1960, actor Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) recruits him to write the screenplay for his epic film Spartacus, and director Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) recruits him to scriptExodus for him; both publicly credit Trumbo as the screenwriter despite Hopper’s futile efforts to intimidate Douglas into dropping Trumbo. By 1960, the effectiveness of the Blacklist has been broken to the point where newly elected US President John F. Kennedy publicly endorses Spartacus and Trumbo and others are able to begin rebuilding their careers. Ten years later, finally receiving his due accolades from Hollywood, Trumbo speaks about how the Blacklist victimized them all: those who stood by their principles and lost their jobs, and also those who compromised their principles to keep them.