Movie Review: Trumbo (2015)

Posted: March 24, 2016 in Comedy, Drama
Tags: , ,


In the mid-1940’s Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was the most highly paid screenwriter in America, and a card carrying member of the Communist Party.  In 1947 Trumbo and 9 of his friends were summoned to testify to the House Un-American Committee, but refused to testify to Congressman J. Parnell Thomas. (James Dumont) Trumbo and his friends were charged with contempt of congress, and jailed.  When he came out of jail, Trumbo and his associates were blacklisted by Hollywood heavyweights John Wayne (David James Elliot) who was aided by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. (Helen Mirren) Despite the blacklist, Trumbo was determined to work, re-writing low budget movies for B-movie maven Frank King. (John Goodman) Sometimes, Trumbo wrote uncredited scripts sometimes he wrote with a front name.  Trumbo stopped writing B-movie scripts long enough to write The Brave One under a pseudonym, Robert Rich, for which he won his second Oscar.  Would Trumbo ever be allowed to come out of the shadows, and use his own name to write a Hollywood screenplay?

I first learned of Dalton Trumbo in a film class I took in college, and I thought it was an interesting subject.  Somehow Hollywood took this interesting intersection of film and politics, and turned it into a dull melodrama with too much focus on Trumbo’s home life.  Also, the writer couldn’t decide whether this was a comedy or a drama, the comedic scenes work, the dramatic scenes come off as preachy or treacly.  The ending is predictable.

This is a case where the acting exceeds the material written on the page.  Bryan Cranston does a superb job as Dalton Trumbo, and handles the comedic and dramatic scenes with equal aplomb. He received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and deserved one. Helen Mirren is also incredible as Hedda Hopper, Trumbo’s chief nemesis.  Mirren clearly enjoys playing someone who makes the Hollywood studio execs and Trumbo himself squirm.  John Goodman is fantastic as smarmy B-movie king, Frank King.  Goodman uses his gifts of physical intimidation, deadpan delivery, and perfect comedic timing to deliver a great performance.  Louis CK also turns in a surprisingly good performance as fellow blacklisted writer Arlen Hird.  Michael Stuhlberg also deserves mention here for a great performance as Edward G Robinson, he doesn’t do an impression, but tries to delve deeper to explain why Robinson did what he did. On the other end of the spectrum was Elle Fanning as the older version of Trumbo’s elder daughter, she was robotic and unemotional.

The direction, by Jay Roach is inconsistent, he clearly knows how handle the lighter scenes, but the pacing of the drama is slow and boring He did get many good performances, but that’s not hard with a cast like this. Roach is mostly known for light comedies like the Austin Powers movies, and Meet The Fockers, which could explain the trouble with the more serious scenes.  Roach ties to imitate Robert Zemekis’ groundbreaking work in Forrest Gump, by having actors in the foreground asking questions while the actual HUAC hearings are going on in the background.  Somehow it’s less effective, because it’s been done before.

Trumbo:  A lot of mumbo-jumbo.

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