Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo fights back against the Hollywood Blacklist.
Hollywood may claim to be a place where creativity and freedom are actively encouraged but this true story shows just how badly that can fail, and these events took place just a handful of decades ago.
Dalton Trumbo was one of the most successful screenwriters in the business, until his association with the Communist Party came under scrutiny. Blacklisted and unable to officially work for any major studio, he retreated into a prison of pseudonyms and peddled his trade to the lowest bidder to keep food on the table.
That drama, and the fallout in relationships and means, is enough to mostly sustain this biopic by director Jay Roach, who has spent his career mixing silly comedy (Austin Powers) with politics (Game Change). This film falls between those two, though it definitely errs on the side of entertainment with plenty of cutting lines for the lead character played by Bryan Cranston.
He’s the main draw of the film, with this talented actor finally getting the chance to enjoy his time on the big screen. He essays the look of Trumbo reasonably well and gets the mannerisms and voice but the true achievement is in creating someone both difficult to like and mesmerising to watch. He’s a complicated man, quick to joke and put down even those closest to him but with a deep reserve of creativity and drive.
It’s hard for any other performances to really stand out next to the title part, though pros like Helen Mirren and John Goodman manage, and it’s interesting to see comic Louis C.K. in a mostly straight role.
While this is absolutely a story worth telling and the general sweep of the narrative is adequately drawn, there’s very little depth to what’s going on in Trumbo. The darker passages in his life are barely touched on and the breezy air makes the many injustices less effective than they might have been. It’s all tied up rather too neatly, with a slow pace that’s intermittently enlivened by Cranston being comedically mean.
Still, it’s worth checking out for that lead performance and a glimpse at a period in Hollywood history which few but film scholars would know much about these days. Maybe there’s even a timely lesson here about a more open system for film making and expression as we edge towards the Oscars for 2016.
- Daniel Anderson