So I watched Trumbo…
I’m getting closer and closer to rounding up my list of Unwatched 2015 movies and this is one of those I was really sour about not seeing at the cinema. I love watching movies and this movie is a movie about movies so you can imagine how eager I was to see it.
Okay, basic plot: Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is one of the best screenwriters working in Hollywood during the 1940’s. Trumbo is also a proud communist who – along with several other communist compatriots in the film industry – becomes the target of an investigation by the House of Un-American Activities (HUAC). Trumbo – along with nine other screenwriters – is blacklisted as the HUAC attempts to root out communism in Hollywood. Unable to find work anywhere, Trumbo resorts to writing scripts under several pseudonyms. Although meant to be blacklisted, Trumbo ends up writing several of the most famous and revered films in film history.
This film’s cast is a dream – Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Alan Tudyk, Louis C.K., John Goodman and at the centre of this constellation of stars is Bryan Cranston. I recently watched Breaking Bad for the first time and the best thing about that show is also the best thing about this movie – Cranston’s level of commitment. There is never a moment when you don’t believe that Cranston is the character he’s portraying. This is the highest level of acting and Cranston is an absolute master of it. His ability to draw you in and make you forget that there is a line between character and actor is wonderful. He was well worth his Academy Award nomination and is the binding force that makes this movie work.
Cranston’s supporting cast is also amazing. I particularly enjoyed Louis C.K. and Diane Lane’s work in this movie. Helen Mirren was fantastic as always but I couldn’t quite ascertain what kind of accent she was going for. Her English accent kept poking through but her performance was as entertaining as ever. Elle Fanning has a supporting role in this film as Trumbo’s daughter – Nikola – and she does a brilliant job. This film is full of understated performances and I think those are often the most difficult to portray because they require a greater level of authenticity but – luckily – the entire case is more than up to it.
This film serves as part biography describing Trumbo’s life during the blacklist and half documentary on the overall process. Actually I think it isn’t an even 50/50 split. The film is skewed towards being a documentary about the overall blacklist and how it affected Hollywood as a whole and often skirts by sections of Trumbo’s life. As a fan of cinema this was a delight for me because I got to learn more about the history of film and how some famous movies were created. I can, however, see how this might be less entertaining for the casual movie goer.
Because of this film’s documentary style it ends up lacking an emotional punch. The film does delve into the effect the blacklist had on Trumbo’s life and, in particular, his relationship with his family but it’s all too superficial. I was hoping to gain greater insight into the character but this film never dissects Dalton Trumbo the way I was hoping it would. There also isn’t a great deal of insight offered into the other characters in the film. They come and go and certain characters have such sporadic appearances that you aren’t allowed the opportunity to connect with them. As a documentary this film works exceptionally well but as a feature film focusing on Trumbo, it falters.
Overall, Trumbo is a good movie. It tells the story of a dark time in not only the world of cinema but also America as a whole, when fear and witch-hunts were the order of the day. I enjoyed it greatly because of the pleasure I receive from film but the average movie-goer might not enjoy it as much. If you like movies or are a fan of anyone in this cast, it really is worth watching. 8/10