Despite the mediocre reviews, I felt I needed to watch Trumbo just because I’m a film buff and Trumbo (the film) is all about the history of cinema from the mid-forties to the early sixties. Besides, Dalton Trumbo wrote the screenplay for one of my all-time favourite films (Spartacus) and a number of lesser favourites like Roman Holiday and Papillon.
So, for me, Trumbo, directed by Jay Roach, was an endlessly fascinating film. It tells the true story of a well-respected Hollywood writer who was blacklisted as a communist in the late forties and spent almost a year in jail for contempt of Congress when he refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing (along with the other nine members of the Hollywood 10). Blacklisted and booted out of the Screen Writers Guild, Trumbo was not allowed to write, but he survived by writing screenplays under a variety of pseudonyms (or people who fronted for him), especially for the King brothers (played by John Goodman and Stephen Root). Two of the uncredited screenplays he wrote (Roman Holiday and The Brave One) won Oscars, which were accepted by others. The scandal was that Hollywood needed these blacklisted writers and found ways to use them until common sense prevailed.
Bryan Cranston delivers a great performance as Trumbo, and I also enjoyed the performances of Diane Lane as Trumbo’s wife, Louis C.K. as a fellow blacklisted writer and Trumbo’s closest friend, Michael Stuhlbarg (what a year he’s had) as Edward G. Robinson, who is forced by circumstances to testify against the Hollywood 10, Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper, a Hollywood columnist who does her best to condemn the Hollywood 10 in the media, and the aforementioned Goodman and Root. With a more-than-adequate score and cinematography, I did, as I said, enjoy watching Trumbo.
But that doesn’t mean I thought it was a great film. On the contrary, Trumbo could have been (and should have been) a much better film. While Trumbo starts and ends strong (partly because it gives us a bigger picture of how Hollywood was impacted by the insanity of the House Un-American Activities Committee), there was over an hour in the middle, when the film focused on Trumbo’s life, that lacked depth and momentum and failed to engage the audience. In the end, I was left feeling that good actors had been wasted on an average screenplay. So I can’t, in good conscience, award Trumbo more than a solid ***. My mug is up. Film buffs and Cranston fans won’t want to miss it.