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New Release Review - TRUMBO

The story of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Jay Roach

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



John Goodman steals his scenes as producer Frank King, who is all too happy to work with a communist as long as he's cheap. At one point, King admonishes a scriptwriter for injecting politics into a sci-fi screenplay; he wouldn't have any such problem with the politically vague script for Trumbo.




If you've seen the 2012 Hitchcock biopic, you'll have some idea of the tone of this look at the professional struggles of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, essayed here in fine style by Bryan Cranston. The Hitchcock movie took a light and breezy approach to its subject, which you might expect for such a figure, but considering the serious nature of Trumbo's troubles, it's disappointing to find such sparse meat on the bones of Jay Roach's film.
The opening scene, in which we see Trumbo banging away on a typewriter in the bath, puffing away on a cigarette with jazz playing in the background, tells us we're not going to get much nuance from this look at the life of a writer. Thankfully, the clich├ęs are toned down quickly and, largely due to Cranston's performance, the film becomes engaging, if not entirely insightful.
For those unaware, Trumbo was the highest profile Hollywood screenwriter to find himself on the 'black list', due to his membership of the American Communist Party at a time when the red scare was terrifying Americans and Senator Joseph McCarthy was cracking down on what he considered the nation's greatest threat. This causes considerable trouble for the creators of a biopic, as you can't really sell a communist as the hero of a Hollywood production even today. As such, the movie awkwardly skirts around Trumbo's beliefs. While the likes of Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and John Wayne (David James Elliott) are caricatured in cartoon fashion for their right wing views, Trumbo is elevated to a high moral position without ever having him divulge the extent of his opposing take. It's a double standard from Jay Roach, who made Sarah Palin's views all too clear in his 2012 political drama Game Change. With the hindsight of history, Trumbo's faith in the communist system may well seem unpalatable if laid bare.
You might expect that only those viewers with an established interest in the subject matter will be drawn to Roach's film, and for anyone with an interest in Hollywood history, its gallery of cameos makes for a passing diversion. The most effective scenes come in the form of recreations of the McCarthy hearings, which will likely have viewers seeking out the real footage online. There's also some amusing sub Ed Wood drama in Trumbo's dealings with the exploitation moguls the King Brothers. John Goodman steals his scenes as producer Frank King, who is all too happy to work with a communist as long as he's cheap. At one point, King admonishes a scriptwriter for injecting politics into a sci-fi screenplay; he wouldn't have any such problem with the politically vague script for Trumbo
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