Review: Trumbo

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DIR: Jay Roach • WRI: John McNamara • PRO: Kevin Kelly Brown, Monica Levinson, Michael London, Nimitt Mankad, John McNamara, Janice Williams • DOP: Jim Denault • ED: Alan Baumgarten • DES: Mark Ricker • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • CAST: Diane Lane, Bryan Cranston, Elle Fanning

Trumbo is the latest film from director Jay Roach, director of the Austin Powers trilogy and theh first two Meet the Parents movies, and tells the true story of Dalton Trumbo, a writer who was a member of the Hollywood 10, all of whom were expelled from Hollywood for being members of the Communist party, publicly humiliated, rendered unable to work, imprisoned, and how, led by Trumbo himself, they were able to fight back and beat the system.

Fittingly for a film about writers, the script is top notch, with some excellent dialogue and back-and-forth banter between the characters. The ensemble cast are all excellent, Cranston proving once again that he’s the man, while Louis CK plays a genuinely serious character and pulls it off formidably, David-James Elliott has John Wayne’s way of speaking and mannerisms down to a tee, while Dean O’Gorman play Kirk Douglas so well that when the real-life Kirk Douglas was shown an early print of the film, he commended its accuracy, while Helen Mirren plays Hedda Hopper brilliantly, and John Goodman dominates every scene he’s in.

What is noteworthy about this biopic, is its relevance in today’s world, a world where the media is still used to misleading the general public and stir up hatred against the innocent, (cough, Fox news, unconvincing cough), as well as the hypocrisy of many of the leaders. For example, John Wayne talking about the war they just fought, despite the fact that he never actually fought in it, similar to how so many Republicans consistently encourage young men to join the army, while they and even their own sons refuse to serve.

The score from Theodore Shapiro is top-notch, imbuing the first act with the sense of manic energy it needs to instantly engage the audience, while  during the hearings, adding an audible sense of danger to the proceedings.

The film has a lot to say about this time period, such as how there are no real heroes or villains, just victims of the system, and how what the government was doing was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the film beats that second one into the ground, with Trumbo himself making speech after speech about how they have to stand up for their right to speak, although Cranston does manage to consistently make that speech engaging.

The film uses original radio broadcasts and also re-creates many news reports from this time, which adds to the immersion, and it shows how cunning and savvy Trumbo was, doing dirty backhand deals in order to stay in the game. The set and costume design is spot on, allowing for further immersion in the era.

While the film is over two hours long, it remains engaging throughout squeezing in a lot of information without ever feeling like a docudrama.

However, there are problems with Trumbo, as he always comes across as in the right. Granted, a few characters question whether he’s fighting the blacklist for freedom of speech or just as a point of pride, but this never really goes anywhere, and his moral ambiguity is left mostly unexplored.

Also there are one or two problems with the film itself. While Trumbo spends around one year in prison, for some reason his daughter has been replaced by Elle Fanning, who is not only much older than the 11-year-old he said goodbye to when he went inside, she’s also much taller and looks nothing like her.

On top of this, good acting doesn’t make up for poor character development, and there was a missed opportunity to show these events from the perspective of John Wayne and his ilk, to let us get into their mind-set and allow us to understand why they thought the way they did, acted the way they did, etc., instead leaving them all reminiscent of the uncomplicated, two-dimensional villains of the films of this era.

Still though, highly recommend.

Darren Beattie

15A
124 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Trumbo is released 5th February 2016

Trumbo – Official Website

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