After having spent years blacklisted in the glitzy-era of 19020’s Hollywood, screenwriting legend, Dalton Trumbo, seems to have finally gotten the final laugh against the powers that be that sought to see him silenced. Directed by Jay Roach (Game Change), Trumbo is based on the biography by Bruce Alexander Cook and gives a look behind the curtain of one of Hollywood’s dark stains. Filled with star cameos (of the past and present), the film is a dramatically light depiction of events, while fudging some of the more important points in history.
Having been an outspoken member of the communist party and a fighter for changing labor laws, screenwriter Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), comes under fire from the forces of anti-Soviet Hollywood, including Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and John Wayne (David James Elliot). Along with nine other screenwriters, he is blacklisted in Hollywood and called to face congress against allegations of writing Communist propaganda into his films. Facing jail time, and the inability to support his wife (Diane Lane) and children (Elle Fanning), Trumbo takes drastic measures to ensure his voice isn’t silenced, or his typewriter.
Roach uses a light touch here, and even in some of the films more serious instances, seems adamant to bring a sense of fun to the proceedings. While working for scenes played up for comedic effect, it leaves the rest of the film in murky waters, de-powering the dramatic notes of their punch and robbing Cranston of some of his finest moments. Much of the political context of the time is watered down to only the most plot-relevant of events and, as an effect, the paranoia and hypocrisy of the time is concentrated into a small bubble of relevant players.
The film also seems to blur the motivations of Trumbo in its final act, whether on purpose or by mishandling, suggesting his search for justice as the main source but not ruling out his own quest for personal glory and validation. These proves especially difficult for the storyline of his family, which proves the continuous point of contention in Trumbo’s wish to just get on with his work. Lane (Inside Out) and Fanning (Maleficent) both do what they can with the material present, but are both relegated to a fairly stock-standard story as the ever-longing family, waiting at the door (or bathroom door as it may be here) for their father to come home.
Cranston (Breaking Bad) is superb as Trumbo though, managing to ground a character based on a man whose mannerisms and characteristics are already fairly cartoonish to begin with. Louis C. K. (American Hustle) gets to play funny man as the straight talking Arlen Hird, one of the ‘Hollywood Ten’, who sticks by Trumbo even as the odds stack against him. It’s Mirren though that steals the show as the glamorous, but vicious, Hopper, who casts the perfect balance between Roach’s lighter mood and the darker dramatic shades of the film.
Appearances by John Goodman (Argo) and Stephen Root (Boardwalk Empire) as low-rent producers, the King Brothers, goes down a treat, as well as Dean O’Gorman (The Hobbit) as a pre-Spartacus Kirk Douglas, and Alan Tudyk (Big Hero 6) as Trumbo’s own front-man.