Movie Review: Trumbo
The film tells the story of Dalton Trumbo, post-WWII Communist screenwriter and member of the famous “Hollywood Ten”. The plot sheds a clear and fair light on the fact that Trumbo’s rights were violated as he constantly battles the government that wrongly accuses him of subliminal Communist messages within his films.
Unfortunately, John McNamera wrote a convoluted script that still manages to be predictable, even tedious, at many parts. A few good jokes are scattered throughout, and seeing the Hollywood stars of the ‘50s adds some excitement, but Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston as the lead is the only aspect that keeps the film afloat.
A wildly successful and well-known 1940s screenwriter as the film begins, Trumbo is living the high life in Hollywood with a few exceptions. His only problem is taking some flak from peers in response to his membership of the Communist Party.
Defending himself gains him copious amounts of notoriety. Before long, he’s speaking, or rather not speaking, to a jury in defense of accusations of subliminal Communist messages in his scripts. The case ends in his imprisonment. When he’s released, he decides to never put his name on a script again. However that doesn’t mean he isn’t writing them. Undefeated, his ghost writing is some of the best in history, producing world-famous films like Roman Holiday and Spartacus. His skills may turn out to be a curse when he ends up being pursued to uncover his (not so) Communist writing style.
It’s unfortunate when films benefit from merely average performances. In the midst of bland set-design and dialogue, Bryan Cranston commands attention in every scene. He breathes some life into the film, but just isn’t a powerful enough actor to save it completely. Perhaps if he was given slightly more direction and a better script, he could have.
In addition to Cranston, Helen Mirren delivers a solid performance as Hedda Hopper. The character dulls her performance, pinning Hopper as the main antagonist of the film and – admittedly – some of the exchanges between these two characters and amongst others is often witty. Alas, instead of Hollywood’s higher-ups, Hopper’s power as a columnist is what Trumbo is (supposed to be) afraid of.
Comedy fans will be happy to see Louis C.K. receiving a solid amount of screen time as Arlen Hird, Dalton’s right hand, who appropriately gives much of the film’s comic relief. However, he’s a comedian first and an actor second, which quickly becomes apparent. Other notable roles include John Goodman as a legendary B-film independent company owner. Goodman is a tried and true actor who never gives a half-hearted performance, proving this once again in Trumbo.
The film has many moments where it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be about. It seems to start off as a dramatic biopic, but dives very deeply into a family drama as Trumbo has to constantly work to deal with the pay cut that comes with his script’s absence of his own name.
This family aspect of the film is poor writing. It holds the viewer’s hand through the situation, sparing no cliches along the way up until the tired “You have to start paying more attention to your family”. By the film’s end, the story of the blacklist isn’t fully fleshed out to represent what truly happened, broken by the unnecessary emphasis on Trumbo’s family.
Trumbo manages to tell (most of) the true story of what happened to the Hollywood Ten in a serious, sometimes comedic way. However, for a movie about one of the most influential scriptwriters in film history, the dialogue and direction for the film feel flat. Other than achieving the bright and vibrant colors corresponding with the 1950s, the film is boring to look at.
It’s not a challenge to recall seeing the very same shots copied from countless other “flicks”. The saviors of the film include a select few of the cast, including Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren and John Goodman, who flex their acting muscles. The fact that director Jay Roach has had success in Comedy is clear, as the film had a few laugh out loud, fruitful jokes. It’s fun to see Trumbo writing some of the most influential films ever created but – regrettably – he’d likely want to do a rewrite for his own biopic.