Posted Dec 08 2015

Trumbo -This Blacklisted Fellah Kinda Rocks

Dir: Jay Roach

Starring Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Louis CK, Elle Fanning, Diane Lane, John Godman, Alan Tudyk, Michael Stuhlbarg

Trumbo is much like the TV work director Jay Roach has done in the last few years, the likes of Recount and Game Change, in that it’s fairly light, slightly frothy, vaguely political and full of fine performances.

Here the focus is the House Un-American Activities Committee, the blacklisting of the so-called Hollywood 10 - screenwriters with Communist Party affiliations who were both imprisoned and denied the right to work back in the early to late 1950s. In particular it concentrates on the most celebrated of these ten, Cranston’s Dalton Trumbo, the man who not only engineered a scheme to keep everyone working, but picked up two Oscars under two pseudonyms into the bargain during this difficult period.

Roach keeps the biopic moving along at a fair old clip from the off, with Cranston’s witty portrayal always proving endearing and involving, and Mirren delivering a lovely (if under used) turn as gossip legend Hedda Hopper, splendidly splenetic. Goodman gets to wield his baseball bat and nab the best lines – indeed, it at times feels a bit schematic with every name actor getting their on screen “moment.” Thus, Trumbo daughter Fanning gets to shout down her dad, Louis CK (who’s terrific here) gets to die (spoiler!), Diane Lane gets to juggle glasses. Everyone is kept happy. 

One of the drawbacks to the movie though is its interface with reality – so we have Stuhlbarg nothing like Edward G Robinson, David James Elliott as a lacklustre John Wayne and, especially, Dean O’Gorman as Kirk “I Am Spartacus” Douglas all of whom, despite the best intentions, can’t help but jar slightly, given their iconic familiarity. (That said, it’s also the kind of movie that allows someone to walk in and introduce themselves by saying “I’m Otto Preminger – the director” in the heaviest accent available – so not all bad.)

Trumbo himself won two Oscars during the period depicted here and whilst it’s unlikely that this Trumbo will follow suit (although it is a Hollywood movie about Hollywood singing its own praise so never say never) Trumbo is, much like the man it depicts, a thoroughly decent little number.


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