Review: Trumbo

He was the man who gave life, air, wit and magic to classic films such as Roman Holiday and The Brave One, but because of the charged and frenzied political climate that gripped Hollywood by the short and curlies, he couldn’t even put his own name to the pictures.

The career of Dalton Trumbo is the subject of Jay Roach’s newest motion picture, titled by the blacklisted screenwriter’s surname. Trumbo, one of the Hollywood 10, refused to testify before Congress and HUAC on the basis of their allegiance with the Communist Party and he was subsequently barred from finding work in the entertainment industry, a.k.a. blacklisted. The screenwriter went to prison and upon release he couldn’t find work.

Instead of succumbing to the laws set forth by Hollywood and the government to attempt to root out the roots of Communism, Trumbo circumnavigated and ultimately subverted the blacklist, by writing the screenplays of Roman Holiday and The Brave One, both of which won Oscar gold, as well as the screenplays of Exodus and Spartacus.

Image by Bleecker Street Media

In Jay Roach’s fervent and witty biopic, Golden Globe winner Brian Cranston leads with a steady and nuanced performance as Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo is, at best, a sturdy history lesson about a man who defied convention in a polarizing period of American history. At worst, it’s a tender and preachy testament to the scores of men and women, whose lives were turned upside down because the government didn’t like their political perspectives and were punished outright for their views. Somehow it draws on both its best and its worst.

I went into Trumbo fascinated at the premise of its subject; I learned about the blacklist in school and how it effectively altered Hollywood and it’s practices so I went into the viewing of Trumbo particularly curious. At the end of the picture, I wasn’t particularly enlightened or enamored by Trumbo but I did gain a great degree of respect for the man because of the picture because, from what I gathered from Cranston’s performance as well as Jay McNamara’s well-versed and brimming screenplay, I appreciated Trumbo’s wit and genius as he carried on with his career in the most cunning method, yet the time was so electric and frenzied I can’t exactly consider him a hero or a villain.

By Trumbo_and_Cleo_1947_HUAC_hearings.png: Unknown derivative work: Pessimist2006 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The film spent all it’s time painting Trumbo and his friends who were also blacklisted, and his family, including his wife Cleo, played by Diane Lane, and his children, as victims and they were victims because of the effects of the blacklist. I couldn’t really empathize with the film, so I simply appreciate it’s intent.

I understood where Jay Roach was coming from for this film and though he doesn’t really hit a grand-slam with Trumbo, I feel that it is worth watching but I would say that this is a movie where you go to RedBox and rent it rather than see it on the silver screen.

Jay McNamara’s screenplay is likable to say the least. There is simply nothing definable and significant enough for it to stand out among the best films released this year.

McNamara’s screenplay is adapted from Dalton Trumbo, written by Bruce Cook, which could be a fascinated read into the life and career behind the famous blacklisted figure but somehow I couldn’t see the appeal. Perhaps I wasn’t part of Trumbo‘s intended target audience.

Image by Peabody Awards, via Wikimedia Commons

Cranston is likable in this film. He certainly gives a performance to be expected from a leading man of his caliber but his performance fails to stand out among the year’s best.

The rest of the cast is moderately entertaining. Diane Lane playing the loyal doting wife and devoted mother, Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis C.K., Alan Tudyk, Helen Mirren, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Elle Fanning, John Goodman, David James Elliott are all talented actors but not one stands out from the bunch; in fact, Trumbo is only carried by Brian Cranston’s performance as the title character.

Even the production value of Trumbo is bland. I couldn’t find any redeeming qualities in Jim Denault’s cinematography, Alan Baumgarten’s editing, Theodore Shapiro’s music, Mark Ricker’s production design, the art direction of Lisa Marinaccio and Jesse Rosenthal, Daniel Orlandi’s costume design, I couldn’t really vibe with anything technical about Trumbo.

Bryan Cranston is an impeccable actor and he does a decent job with Trumbo, but I think the film ultimately simmers rather than blazes. Trumbo is a good history lesson but it isn’t worth the price of admission in a movie theater; wait until DVD.

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