Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language including some Sexual References
Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by: John McNamara
(based on the book DALTON TRUMBO by Bruce Alexander Cook)
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, Stephen Root & Roger Bart
Though Hollywood has produced thousands of on-screen stories, filmmaking also produces a number of interesting tales that take place within the studio system itself. If you want evidence of this, just watch a few celebrity interviews and behind-the-scenes documentaries. Hollywood is not without its dark side though and its ugliest moment probably came in the blacklisting of cast and crew members during the Red Scare. Though many hard-working people (not just in Hollywood) lost their jobs, homes, families and lives based purely on their political beliefs during the Red Scare, some managed to persevere and make it out in one piece. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was very much the latter and this biopic tackles his fascinating story.
With a successful filmography under his belt and a promising future still ahead of him (a three-year contract promises to make him the highest paid writer in Hollywood), Dalton Trumbo is a talented man with a typewriter. He also happens to be vocal in his political beliefs (he’s a Communist) and this has led to scrutiny from his co-workers. When the FBI comes knocking and Trumbo is summoned to testify before Congress about alleged propaganda, he finds himself blacklisted, out of work, and facing potential prison time. Doing all he can in the face of seemingly impossible odds, Dalton takes to the black market of penning screenplays under different names and working on cheap B-movie crap to keep his family afloat. As years pass, we see the complex workings of one interesting man’s story play out on the screen.
If any nominations come to TRUMBO this awards season, they will most likely be for Bryan Cranston’s performance. For someone who’s played one of the most memorable characters in television history, Cranston becomes Trumbo with a take-no-prisoners attitude and matter-of-fact way of speaking. The movie doesn’t idolize the screenwriter either in showing that he has definite faults, especially regarding tensions with his family as he furiously types out “black market” screenplays. Trumbo was no hero. He was a merely a man caught in insanely unfair situations that still seem disturbingly relevant in America today. Cranston owns the part and delivers a stunning performance.
On the supporting side of things, TRUMBO boasts many different characters, some of whom only pop up for a couple of scenes. It goes to show just how well written and terrifically performed this story is that I never once had a single problem remembering who was who. The flow of the film feels natural and even. Diane Lane is a sympathetic as Trumbo’s strained wife, while Elle Fanning has never been better as Trumbo’s teenage daughter. Helen Mirren is positively hateable as Hedda Hopper (the human equivalent of TMZ during the 40’s and 50’s). Meanwhile, John Goodman is perfect as a studio exec who uses Trumbo’s services. Hands down, Goodman also has the funniest scene of the entire running time (you’ll know it when you see it). Other memorable performances that I can’t fully elaborate on for lack of space include Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, Stephen Root, and Roger Bart.
TRUMBO isn’t without a couple of problems though. Louis C.K. sticks out like a sore thumb in that his character (though essential to the story) doesn’t meld well with the tone of the film. Also, Dean O’Gorman looks remarkably like Kirk Douglas, but David James Elliot only sounds like John Wayne and doesn’t bear much resemblance to the iconic actor. The movie can also get a little too melodramatic during a couple of moments. However, these sappy scenes don’t detract from the rest of the stellar qualities surrounding them.
I’d rank TRUMBO next to 2012’s HITCHCOCK. Both are recent movies (from the 2010s) that take a look back at studio politics and life within the “Golden Age” of Hollywood. Though this film definitely examines a harsher and more frustrating tale. TRUMBO is a flat-out terrific story about a fascinating man during a horrible time. The film doesn’t get too bogged down in being a political statement either, but rather examines how someone succeeded through severe persecution. Though it has a couple of shortcomings (Louis C.K.’s performance and slight melodrama), TRUMBO comes highly recommended for those who might be interested in this sort of thing.