In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood’s top screenwriter, until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.
‘Trumbo’ is a fun biopic about the life and career of Dalton Trumbo, an American screenwriter in the 1950s who ended up in prison for his communist beliefs. It follows Trumbo from the late 40s when the House Un-American Activities Committee started targeting known communists within Hollywood through to his time after prison when he was blacklisted from writing screenplays. Dalton Trumbo is well played by Bryan Cranston and he carries this biopic which can often be a little light and breezy and it never explores its subject matter with great depth or nuance.
The film is directed by Jay Roach who is most known for directing comedies like ‘Meet The Parents‘ and ‘Austin Powers‘, as well as a couple of political TV movies for HBO. His direction is unfussy with very few stylistic flourishes and this allows the viewer to immerse themselves in a fun depiction of 1950s Hollywood. There’s a couple of ways this film could have gone tonally, and Jay Roach chooses a lighter touch rather than doubling down on the timeframe when Trumbo was accused of being a communist and sent to jail. Choosing to focus more on his return works well and the second half of the movie is infinitely more enjoyable than the first. Like most biopics, the film does tend to paint its protagonist in an overwhelmingly positive light, with the smallest amount of lip service paid to some of Trumbo’s more negative aspects, such as working excessively at the expense of family and his slightly hypocritical lifestyle. From the perspective of historical accuracy, it also sugar coats some of Trumbo’s more radical beliefs and his open support for regimes that actively suppressed free speech.
Cranston is very good in the title role, although it’s always clear his depiction of Dalton Trumbo is a ‘performance’. He is particularly hammy in some of the opening sequences and the film improves measurably when he dials it back allows himself to disappear into the character later on. This is emphasised most in a charged scene between Trumbo and the actor Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) after Trumbo gets out of jail. The supporting performances are strong, with John Goodman’s B-movie producer stealing every scene he’s in, and solid turns from the likes of Stuhlbarg, Louis C.K. and Helen Mirren as actress and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who she plays as a larger than life villain. Most of the fun with ‘Trumbo’ comes with enjoying the portrayals of major actors and personalities of the time, such as John Wayne and Kirk Douglas, and whilst some of the depictions aren’t great (Christian Berkel as Otto Preminger), I found it to be a fun trip through Hollywood history.
‘Trumbo’ is an enjoyable biopic about an intriguing real life figure, with a fun supporting cast and a dominant lead performance by Bryan Cranston, but it doesn’t have the story to match Cranston’s efforts.
Directed By: Jay Roach
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, Stephen Root, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Dean O’Gorman, Roger Bart, David James Elliott and Christian Berkel