November 12, 2015
Trumbo (***) R
As far as biopics go,Trumbo is one of the better efforts in what has turned out to be a movie going season chock full of them. It’s well cast, informative, quite funny at times and very well paced. Is it likely to set the box office woods on fire? Probably not, but for those who either want to know more about Oscar winning writer Dalton Trumbo, or, like myself, are simply movie geeks who can’t get enough of films that illuminate the creative processes involved in filmmaking, Trumbo will most likely deliver the goods.
Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame is ideally cast as the famed screenwriter of the film’s title. I wasn’t sure going into the film that he would be able to pull off the feat of portraying such a larger than life character as Trumbo, but he proves to be more than up to the task. He’s got Trumbo’s mannerisms and well documented speech patterns down pat and in doing so captures the essence of the man more than I could have imagined.
In case there are any of you reading this who aren’t familiar with Dalton Trumbo or his checkered history, it’s worth noting. Simply put, he was one of the infamous blacklisted screenwriters accused of being a Communist sympathizer during the Hollywood witch hunts orchestrated by Wisconsin
Helen Mirren & Bryan Cranston in Trumbo
Senator Joseph McCarthy. As a result, Trumbo, along with other left-leaning screenwriters on the list, were eventually banished from Hollywood and left unable to earn a living at their craft. Trumbo’s solution was to continue to write screenplays but only under assumed names. Ironically, he won two Oscars but found himself unable to take credit for either achievement.
The film follows Trumbo from the period immediately before he found himself blacklisted and charts his course through his struggles onward as he eventually finds his career rescued by actor Kirk Douglas, who insisted that Trumbo be credited in name as the sole writer of Spartacus. In the interim Trumbo winds up doing what he can to earn a living, even churning out low budget tripe for a poverty row studio producer (John Goodman, who has some of the film’s best lines) at one point.
The supporting parts of the film are all quite good, from Helen Mirren’s menacing turn as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper to Diane Lane’s sympathetic turn as Trumbo’s loving and supportive wife. Interestingly, one of the most surprisingly good turns comes from comic Louis C.K., who portrays a fictional screenwriter friend of Trumbo’s who is most likely a composite of several real life figures.
If there’s a bone to pick with the film it’s that it sometimes falls prey to the standard biopic trappings that films like this can succumb to from time to time. Even so, there’s enough to embrace about the film to more than recommend it. All the better if you know little to nothing about Dalton Trumbo and his captivating story.
Trumbo opens November 25.
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