Trumbo – 2015
Director: Jay Roach
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Louis C.K, Helen Mirren
Words: B. Halford
With the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union in full swing, the House of Un-American Activities Committee turns to Hollywood looking to expose and blacklist people suspected of communist sympathies. Amongst those suspected is screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Cranston) who takes to writing screenplays under pseudonyms as he battles the political witch-hunt.
Whilst director Jay Roach is probably best known to the public at large for his comedy films which include the Austin Powers films, his collaborations with Sacha Baron Cohen and Meet The Parents (2000), the other face to his work is political dramas produced for television with Game Change (2012) and Recount (2008). Here that aspect is brought to the big screen in an effort that still feels better suited to television, but in most other aspects is a very satisfying, if flawed, film.
Given the prominence in Hollywood’s history itself (admittedly, not its proudest period), the era of the Hollywood Blacklist and the investigations into Communist activities in Hollywood has been a well-explored topic but Trumbo is still able to give the film an entertaining spin. Some of this is through the round of impersonations that the cast give to iconic Hollywood stars of the period. Whilst some pass a little too close to unconvincing parody (such as David James Elliot’s minor role as John Wayne)
Ultimately, this brings it all to Bryan Cranston’s performance as Dalton Trumbo. By perhaps luck, or most likely design, Cranston bares something of a similarity to the famed screenwriter in appearance and in voice, allowing him to slip into character very naturally. You seldom get the feeling that Cranston is consciously acting, which is only a good thing, whilst his dialogue as Trumbo allows for a great deal of standing on the proverbial pulpit and preaching to the masses, in equal parts a brave idealist and a self-righteous prig avoiding the temptation to overly proselytise in Trumbo’s favour.
The film’s only major problem is its own televisual nature. Given Roach’s earlier work in making politically-themed films for television and the film’s lower budget, the film ultimately does come away looking a little less polished than its big name cast may suggest and its ticking-the-boxes approach to covering Trumbo’s career and lifestory does also give off the feeling of a made-for-television film, even if the subject is fascinating and gives us insight into such Trumbo-penned classics as Roman Holiday (1953) and Spartacus (1960).
At times Trumbo teeters towards being over earnest but on a subject that does somewhat forgive such leanings and the engaging screenplay and game performances d stop the film from feeling too dry and academic. Trumbo will probably never be realised as anything more than a possible highlight in the careers of Jay Roach and Bryan Cranston, one highlight of many. Chances are it won’t endure and in truth, it doesn’t reach the heights of those same classic movies it namechecks throughout. However, as a depiction of a fascinating life at a fascinating time in history, the film lives up to what it promises.