Trumbo (2015)
Trumbo (2015)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.

Release Date: November 25th, 2015 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jay Roach Actors: Bryan Cranston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Alan Tudyk, Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Stephen Root

 


 

D

uring the 1930s, in response to the Great Depression and the rise of fascism, thousands of Americans joined the Communist Party of the United States. One notable member was accomplished novelist and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who joined the group in 1943. But as the Cold War started up, new suspicions were cast on American communists, escalating into a witch-hunt that famously and publically plagued Hollywood.

In 1947 in Los Angeles, Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) deals with the paranoid hatred of pro-democratic moviemakers and even regular moviegoers as they criticize his participation with film crews picketing for higher wages. One of the major enemies of communism becomes the Motion Picture Alliance, with spokespeople like John Wayne (David James Elliott, looking nothing like the Duke) and Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), who put pressure on studio heads to fire communist employees. And Congress’ House Un-American Activities Committee, with their seemingly unconstitutional policies, causes further problems when Trumbo is subpoenaed to appear in Washington (along with nine other screenwriters) to testify about his involvement with the Communist Party.

According to HUAC’s leaders, dangerous connections to Moscow could bring about the overthrow of the nation through the most powerful form of influence ever created – the motion picture. Soon, the “Hollywood Ten” are blacklisted from employment with any of the major studios, even though Trumbo was recently signed to a three-year contract with MGM, which made him the highest-paid writer in Hollywood. By 1949, the “Ten” are held in contempt of Congress, and by 1950, Trumbo is imprisoned in Ashland, Kentucky (to serve just under a year). But that wouldn’t stop him from pursuing his writing career and fighting to undermine and eventually quash the blacklist.

Though the film moves through history swiftly, with plenty of amusing roles played by recognizable character actors (despite none of them looking or sounding entirely accurate), it doesn’t do a particularly convincing job of making the communists the heroes or the McCarthy backers the villains (save for Hopper). It also doesn’t detail the specific crimes, prison terms, and relationships between the numerous characters involved. But it does maintain a fast pace while exposing the ironies of the unemployable writers taking over all the writing jobs under pseudonyms and non-blacklisted screenwriter credits. The historical elements of prejudices and antagonism (mirroring the civil rights movement during the same time period) are infuriating and eye-opening. And, in the end, the successes are triumphant.

But familial drama, the sting of betrayal, and some of the humor that is supposed to impart levity to the situations fail to inspire much emotion. Cranston’s persona, however, is highly watchable, creating a fictionally cinematic character that can hold the weight of a full feature. None of the other roles can match or even stand out when compared to Cranston, which is not surprising considering that not a single part truly captures their real-life counterparts (something films like “My Week with Marilyn” and “Hitchcock” managed with greater precision). But as a biographical bit of entertainment, “Trumbo” is more than agreeable, serving as a modestly educational comedic drama.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10