Review: Trumbo Isn’t Perfect But Has Great Performances And Attention To Detail
Director: Jay Roach
Screenwriter: John McNamara (written by) and Bruce Cook (book ‘Dalton Trumbo’)
Principal Cast: Bryan Cranston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, and David James Elliott
Summary: In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood’s top screenwriter until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.
If the award season brings us anything it’s a large number of movies based on true events. The first and second world wars seem to be the time that most Oscar bait is set, but most areas of history that deal with real events are more than likely Oscar bait. The only thing Oscar voters love more than seeing movies about history and real people is seeing movies that somehow relate back to Hollywood itself. It’s for that reason that I was a bit leery of Trumbo, even if it was a movie that was painting Hollywood in not the best light. It still had all of the hallmarks of Oscar bait and often those movies are anywhere from intolerably smug to pretty good.
Trumbo isn’t a perfect retelling of infamous communist blacklists, but thanks to a great attention to detail and uncanny performances it’s the kind of Oscar bait I don’t mind watching.
I usually start my positive reviews with everything that I like about the movie and then end on the things that I didn’t, but the thing I didn’t like is kind of a big deal. The history behind this movie and the famous “Hollywood ten” is very interesting from someone who not only enjoys history but also film history. However, the communist blacklist of the late 1940’s didn’t just affect a bunch of writers and people working in Hollywood but people all over the country. While Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and his friends did suffer they also managed to bounce back and had savings that helped keep them afloat. At the end of the movie there is a text overlay saying how some people lost everything to the blacklist and some even resorted to suicide. It just never felt like that big of a deal while watching Trumbo do work under the table and still manage to keep his family in a decent sized house and fed. There were other stories happening and other lives being ruined by the blacklist and I feel like the movie could have done a better job at acknowledging them. The pacing was also a little off.
However, besides that, the movie is really good. It’s quite funny, actually, which I found surprising as Cranston and the rest of the cast deliver great dry wit. There is also the fact that some of the likeness is so uncanny that you almost have to do a double take. After the movie ends it shows the cast members name next to a picture of the real life person they were playing and Cranston in particular looked exactly like Dalton Trumbo. There is also the fact that each cast member is also just doing a great job at playing these people and making them feel real. Diane Lane isn’t going to get nearly enough credit as Trumbo’s wife Cleo who seems to be silently standing by her husband but is secretly extremely torn up about the situation. The supporting cast is great including greats like Alan Tudyk as Hunter McLellen Hunter and Louis C.K putting out one of his best performances ever as Arlen Hird. Helen Mirren and David James Elliott do an excellent job of capturing Hedda Hopper and John Wayne without making it over the top or like they were doing bad impersonations of the famous people they are portraying.
It was the little details in this movie that really sold Trumbo for me. The movie goes out of it’s way to cut real footage with footage of the actors. The best examples of this are during a courtroom scene where the Hollywood ten are being interrogated by congress when a young Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) turns up. They show moments of Spartacus with footage of O’Gorman playing Douglas in Spartacus. It’s these little details that really helped pull you into the movie and that keeps it compelling. These little details are just fun for everyone to see. John Goodman has probably the most fun as businessman Frank King who was the only one willing to hire Trumbo to work for him. The little details of the lousy exploitation movies he’s making are fun for anyone with a history of film to watch. Director Jay Roach is mostly known for comedies such as the Austin Powers movies but he easily makes what could have been a very somber and sad movie entertaining.
Trumbo is exactly the type of movie that gets released in mid-November as all of the award movies start to drop, but it’s one of the ones that is also genuinely good. It’s not great, though, and I’m not sure how it is going to fare against other award contenders, but I can see it may get some actor and actress nominations and rightfully so. If you’re a fan of film history, or history in general, Trumbo is going to be very interesting even if it doesn’t tell the whole story.