Release: 20th June 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
The successful career of 1940s screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) comes to a crushing end when he and other Hollywood figures are blacklisted for their political beliefs. TRUMBO (directed by Jay Roach) tells the story of his fight against the U.S. government and studio bosses in a war over words and freedom, which entangled everyone in Hollywood from Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and John Wayne to Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger.
Bryan Cranston, much like his on-screen alter ego Dalton Trumbo, found himself at the centre of some high level Hollywood politics at this year’s Oscars. Although the #OscarSoWhite movement didn’t result in blacklisting, it did prove a timely reminder that even now, Tinsel Town is still very much a place where the prejudice of those running the system is more important than the films they make.
And just as with Trumbo’s albeit-through-proxy Oscar win, Cranston’s nomination this year was well deserved. There was never any overt sense that Cranston was in the running for the golden statue, but next to DiCaprio and Fassbender, Cranston easily gave one of the best character performances of the year.
Jay Roach directs Trumbo like jazz, dancing lightly around the edges of McCarthyism and the implications it had on the lives of so many talented folk. The film feels wild and eccentric, acting overtly joyous in an attempt to mask its inner being; much like the writer it depicts. The problem with this is that we sometimes fail to recognise the impending tensions of Trumbo’s life as they develop. Things suddenly come crashing in, and the freewheeling biopic grinds to a halt. It is a film the feels emotionally honest to the man and the world he inhabited, rather than offering a direct interpretation of the life he led. Without recognising such could make Trumbo seem like a frivolous outing that is too light on its feet.
It is not all plain sailing and in spite of the talent involved, Trumbo isn’t always a joy to watch. The whole Spartacus segment runs too long, while the dark side of Trumbo is merely glanced at rather than being fully explored. Sometimes entire scenes or lines of dialogue feel unnecessary. Even though Roach’s film only explores a section of Trumbo’s life, it still feels too broad in scope. The Communist witch-hunts, the birth of Roman Holiday, Trumbo’s years with the King brothers, even his relationship with Hedda Hopper; there are a number of smaller and richer films here but none of them are fully explored.
Trumbo is littered with wonderful performances. Like pegs in a tent, names such as Lewis C.K, Alan Tudyk, Michael Stuhlbarg and Elle Fanning keep Roach’s whimsical tone firmly grounded. And while none of them reach the heights of Cranston’s attention grabbing brilliance, they each help to bolster what would otherwise become a one-man show.
Film Grade: B
With a documentary entitled Who is Trumbo? You’d expect a little more nuance than four minutes of generic sound bites. Thankfully, the cast spans beyond those involved in the movie, as we hear a little from Trumbo’s actual family. But with such little interest in doing more than promoting the film, this feels like a missed opportunity.
The shorter doc of the two, Bryan Cranston Becomes Trumbo, flies by in a minute (almost literally). It is a neat little feature packed with Cranston’s psychology in approaching the man he portrayed, that could easily have filled another 15 minutes or so of the disc’s seemingly sparse offerings.
Special Features Grade: D+
In a year that saw another director drenched in comedy history take a leap into the dramatic (See The Big Short), Jay Roach’s efforts seem to be less smug. Trumbo is delightful and smart, if not a little too perky for its own good. Watch it for the Cranston, he is still very much the one who knocks.