TRUMBO (USA/15A/124mins)
Directed by Jay Roach. Starring Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, Louis CK, Alan Tudyk, Michael Stuhlbarg.
THE PLOT: In 1940s Hollywood, the Communist Party had fallen out of favour, with suspicions about members beginning to spring up. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was one of the Hollywood professionals forced to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee when his support of Communism was revealed and, although he continued to write Oscar winning screenplays, he had to do it in secret for much of hi career since he was black listed due to his political affiliations.
THE VERDICT: There is no doubt that ‘Trumbo’ is an incredible story of people being forced out of their careers, bullied and tormented due to their political beliefs, but in trying to cram a story spanning decades into 124 minutes leaves the film feeling cluttered, slight and rather messy.
The cast of ‘Trumbo’ reads like a who’s who of the best working today, and it is they who carry the film. Bryan Cranston is on fantastic form as the obsessive, stubborn but kind hearted Trumbo, and he is joined by Helen Mirren as powerful columnist Hedda Hopper, who doesn’t think twice about naming names suspected of Communism and Dian Lane plays Trubo’s wife Cleo. The rest of the cast features Louis CK, Alan Tudyk, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Elle Fanning, Dean O’Gorman and Roger Bart.
John McNamara’s screenplay is based on Bruce Cook’s book “Dalton Trumbo” but, as mentioned before, the screenplay simply tries to cram too much time and information into the film for it to feel smooth and coherent. The dialogue is top notch, but feels as though it is written to be quoted; that said, the screenplay is self aware of it’s flowery nature enough to have Arlen Hird (Louis CK) berate ‘Trumbo’ for the way he speaks. It is in trying to span the decades that the film struggles, not giving enough time to anything to make it feel concrete.
Director Jay Roach is another comedic director making his dramatic debut – after Adam McKay’s The Big Short – and from the careful timing of the characters speech, it is evident that this is an area where Roach’s strengths lie. The pacing of the film, however, struggles as so much information is covered, and although the performances are fantastic, these do not make up for a film that slows to a crawl and seems to lack a strong dramatic arc.
In all, ‘Trumbo’ has a fascinating story at its heart, and the cast are wonderful – particularly Cranston, CK and Goodman – but this is not enough to make up for a badly paced film that tries to cram decades of living into two hours. ‘Trumbo’ would have worked wonderfully as a six part Netflix special, and this would have allowed the story to have space to breathe.
Review by Brogen Hayes

3.0Overall Score
  • filmbuff2011

    The story of the Hollywood 10 is one of Tinseltown’s more shameful chapters. A group of Communist screenwriters and actors during the early days of the Cold War were blacklisted and treated as pariahs by their industry. Trumbo is the story of the key member of the 10, ace screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

    The Communist Party gained traction in the US in the wake of the financial crash of 1929 and WWII. Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is a screenwriter of note, a husband to wife Cleo (Diane Lane), a father to his three children including Niki (Elle Fanning), an American… and an unashamed member of the Communist Party. This draws the attention of the HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee. Playing off fears of paranoia and reds-under-the-bed hysteria, the HUAC calls Trumbo to Washington D.C. whereupon he defends his political beliefs and defies the HUAC. This lands him and his fellow Hollywood Communists in jail. Released from jail later on, Trumbo finds it nearly impossible to find work in Hollywood. This isn’t helped by viperous Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), who has an agenda of her own. Trumbo goes undercover, writing screenplays under a series of aliases. These screenplays, which include Roman Holiday and The Brave One, go on to win him Oscars but they remain uncollected. Writing himself back into the Hollywood scene might just be his path to redemption…

    As with Adam McKay and The Big Short recently, Trumbo marks a change of pace for Jay Roach, the director of the Austin Powers and Meet The Parents franchises. He shows himself to be quite adapt at dramatic storytelling, bolstered by a flawless performance from Cranston, who has been rightly nominated for an Oscar. This is a story of the golden age of Hollywood, but a tarnished one at that. Viewed in retrospect, the story of the 10 seems quite remarkable and deeply unfair and troubling now. If America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, then surely it should embrace all beliefs and not just the mainstream ones? Whatever you think of the story of the 10, this is a very involving film that cuts through the political red tape and instead focuses on the supreme talent of Trumbo, one of Hollywood’s greatest screenwriters who could knock off a top-class script in days. Actors like Edward G. Robinson, John Wayne and Kirk Douglas all get their two cents to chip in, but the film plays it a little too safe with Wayne. The outspoken patriotic actor is given a few scenes in the story, but his relevance to the story of the 10 is never fully explained.

    Roach doesn’t want to court too much controversy here (he’s not Oliver Stone), so Trumbo is edgy in a safe, comfortable way. Cranston holds it all together, but there’s a strong supporting cast that also includes John Goodman, Louis C.K. and Michael Stuhlbarg. It’s very entertaining, drily funny and gives you a good insight into the blacklist and what it meant for the people involved. Film buffs like this reviewer will lap it up. Recommended. ****