Besides my ambitions of screenwriter-dom, Jay Roach’s Trumbo appealed to me for a variety of different reasons. For one, I was greatly surprised that Hollywood had produced a film tracking the life of known communist (it’s basically a swear word back in the good U.S. of A) without smearing the name of one of cinema’s most successful screenwriters. Second of all, I was raised by a film industry commie myself. Trumbo therefore seemed like the perfect film for me so I jumped at the chance of seeing the film before it was even released.
Trumbo traces the life of American screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), who, despite being considered one of the industry’s most talented writers, was blacklisted due to his affiliation with the communist party. Stubborn and self-indulgent, Trumbo continued to work in the industry clandestinely for almost two decades, winning two Academy Awards (for Roman Holiday and The Brave One) during that time. The film documents Trumbo’s trial, incarceration, anonymous success as well as freedom once removed from the blacklist and free to work in the industry once more.
What drives Trumbo is the remarkable cast of the film as well as the development of certain key characters in particular. Trumbo himself is a stubborn, selfish man (who does remind me quite a bit of my father) whose humour and talent is the only thing that saves him from just being a temperamental drunk. He is flanked by his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) who, despite her husband’s insane demands on his family, sticks with him until the end. Throughout the film we are introduced to a variety of characters, both factual and fictional, including close Trumbo friend and fellow Communist Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.), the original Gossip Girl Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), as well as money-loving and morally ambiguous producer Frank King (John Goodman).
Although I was very surprised that Hollywood managed to make a film about communists without completely slandering the name of Trumbo, Roach and screenwriter John McNamara missed many opportunities to properly critique not only Hollywood and the film industry but also the American judicial system and the hypocrisy behind free speech in the supposed ‘free country.’ Whether it was because they were censored by the very industry they attempted to critique or just didn’t have the cojones to rip Hollywood apart, the production team behind Trumbo missed many an opportunity to tear apart the film industry much like Hollywood tore apart communist filmmakers in the 1940s.
Often humorous and seldom dull due to the vibrant characters, Trumbo is visually strong as well, the costumes and sets giving nostalgia for the Hollywood golden age. The wonderful score by Theodore Shapiro, paired with the few popular songs throughout the film, gives Trumbo the element of grandeur so attributed to Hollywood and film. Trumbo’s weakest element falls on the distribution of events and time throughout the film. Spanning almost four decades, Trumbo is not only long but also sloppy at times, throwing the audience off since it doesn’t explain the time period and it finds difficulty in inhabiting any specific timeframe for a long period of time. Although I did enjoy the film, I also felt that Trumbo would have worked just as well if not more successfully as a mini-series in order to give the honest story and not dilute the history and facts that surrounded the events told throughout the film.
Although I left the film feeling slightly disappointed, Trumbo did in the end entertain me – which is the main purpose of a film. Although I would have preferred a clearer story and a better-mapped plot, Cranston superbly inhabited the character (whose made me want to start writing in the bath) and the supporting cast lifted the at times stale script due to their acting chops. Overall, the film left me curious about the Hollywood blacklisting process as well as those who had to abandon their careers because of the political beliefs they held so dear.
Trumbo hits U.K. cinemas on February 5th. Bryan Cranston was nominated for an Academy Award for his work in the titular role.