Film Review – Trumbo
Do you know who Dalton Trumbo was? No? I did not either until screening Trumbo. It is based on the life of Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and how his political and social leanings ended up getting him subpoenaed by Congress and on the blacklist, effectively ruining his career.
Beginning in the late 1940s and after the end of World War II, some Americans considered themselves Communists because of their beliefs and social ideals. Being a Communist became a bad word after U.S. relations with the U.S.S.R. started going south. Congress’ House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigated citizens who had Communist leanings. Among those investigated was Dalton Trumbo. He was held in contempt of Congress and sent to jail along with ten other members of Hollywood, known as the “Hollywood Ten.” This effectively ruined his career as one of Hollywood’s top screenwriters. Trumbo tells the story of the struggle to regain his career and what he was forced to do make it back to being in Hollywood’s good graces with a couple of Academy Awards along the way.
Screenwriting is not the most glamorous of the film industry’s careers, and to want to watch an entire film based on the life of one is not exciting. However, one based on the trials and tribulations of Dalton Trumbo and an important period in history, this film ends up to being interesting, educational, and has some damn good acting and a superb script. If you are going to make a film about a famous screenwriter, you had better have a good script. John McNamara wrote the script based of the book Dalton Trumbo by David Cook. Trumbo is one of only a handful of films I have seen that it has occurred to me that it has some really great writing while watching said film. The lines being said by the numerous actors are fantastic. There are some great one-liners also, like “Jesus, take the wheel!”
While a film of this subject can be monotonous and a tad boring, the aforementioned script helped immensely as well as the familiar faces expertly playing their roles. Bryan Cranston hit this one out of the park. His Trumbo is a strong character with a healthy sense of humor and perseverance to do what is right at all costs. He should be a shoo-in for a best actor nomination come awards season. Diane Lane plays the important role of Trumbo’s wife, Cleo, who perseveres through all of Trumbo’s troubles and holding down the fort for the children. She is different from him in many ways, but supports his views even though she might not have the same ones.
Louis C.K. plays Arlen Hird, another persecuted screenwriter, who is one of Trumbo’s closest friends. He conspires with Trumbo to write crappy scripts using pseudonyms to get around Hollywood’s blacklist. Helen Mirren plays Hedda Hopper, a gossip columnist of sorts who conspires with John Wayne (David James Elliott) to keep Hollywood Communist free. They run a lobby group of sorts, making sure those Commies don’t make any money or get any support from the movie-going public. Rounding out the cast is Alan Tudyk, James DuMont, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, Elle Fanning, Roger Bart, Stephen Root, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
Trumbo is definitely not a film for everyone. The topic and focus of the film are not as interesting as a teen hero with a bow, but it is about a period of history that many of my age or younger may know nothing about. It does feel a little long by the end, but this is not a film done lightly. It has tremendous performances by a variety of actors, topped by Bryan Cranston’s should-be award winning performance. There is a reverence paid to Dalton Trumbo, seen in the performances, direction, and the script. The ending is definitely bittersweet, but the gumption and strength of Trumbo in the face of adversity is remarkable.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with subject Niki Trumbo.