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Trumbo - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

Trumbo turns out to be more topical than perhaps the filmmakers intended, as it benefits from the timing of being released in the midst of all this hysteria about Muslims and Syrian refugees. Of course it's not precisely the same, but there are definite parallels between that and the story of this movie, which focuses on Hollywood script writer Dalton Trumbo and his membership in the American Communist Party resulting in him being blacklisted. In a way, it could be seen as a warning of how bad things could get if this irrational behavior is allowed to continue getting out of hand.

Because that certainly happened in the 1940s and 50s, with people assuming any association with Communism made them a direct threat to both the American way of life and the United States itself -- hence the The House Un-American Activities Committee, which was created in 1938 and investigated people clear through 1975. It was originally created to uncover U.S. citizens with Nazi ties, but after World War II and the advent of the Cold War, it morphed into uncovering ties to Communism.

That was far more abstract, of course, and in practice became nothing more than transparent oppression. This led to a peculiar fixation on Hollywood, which Trumbo even shows reporters finding amusing at first. But Congress was relentless about it, going so far as to jail certain Hollywood people who refused to answer questions directly after being subpoenaed to D.C. and found guilty of contempt of Congress.These included Dalton Trumbo, who served 11 months because he rightly insisted Congress had no right to investigate him in this fashion.

Given that Trumbo was a very high-profile Hollywood writer, with the likes of Roman Holiday, Spartacus and Exodus to his credit -- not to mention two Academy Awards, both of them won under pseudonyms -- this makes for a fascinating story indeed. I just wish Trumbo director Jay Roach had managed to make it more fascinating as a movie. Trumbo is hardly boring, but it's at more than two hours is slightly overlong, and has plenty of supporting players that are merely serviceable rather than great.

That said, Bryan Cranston is fantastic in the title role, in which he disappears and becomes this character completely, about as far removed from his iconic television role as Walter White on Breaking Bad as he could get. Here he is depicted as a man too obsessed with his pseudonym work in the wake of his jail sentence, enlisting his family and then overworking them. These include a lovely Diane Lane as his wife, Cleo, and Elle Fanning as their eldest child, Niki, who finds her own causes for activism. The subplot regarding Niki is heartening to see, with Trumbo clearly taking his influence on his daughter very seriously -- these are proud liberals, almost jarringly so for the time. The end credits even include a clip of the real Trumbo giving an interview about how he would give his daughter the Oscar he never got due to being blacklisted if anyone finally were ever to give it to him.

And then there's Helen Mirren, playing against type as the quasi-villainous Hollywood reporter Hedda Hopper, whose mission seems to be unveiling any and all Communists in Hollywood. This makes Dalton Trumbo a particular target. He has several associates also targeted and subpoenaed, played by Michael Stuhlbarg and Louis C.K. among others, but Trumbo is the most prolific and famous and thus high-profile among them.

If nothing else, it's fun to see several great actors playing -- and disappearing into -- unusual roles, which tell a story not often told, particularly this long after the fact. But there is poignant timing here when it comes to our Congress stoking the flames of misguided hysteria. Still, Trumbo is not quite as pointed as it could have been -- which is not to say that it needs to be preachy -- and there's a certain lack of broad cohesion to the script. There's a certain irony to a script about a script writer widely recognized as brilliant, which is itself far from brilliant. At least it's also far from stupid; there's nothing glaringly wrong with it either. But Trumbo could have benefitted from being a more memorable film than it is, given how memorable was the man himself.

Helen Mirren and Bryan Cranston spar over the Americanism of being blacklisted in TRUMBO.

Overall: B
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