Trumbo is a beautifully decorated film”

by Steve Pulaski

Jay Roach’s Trumbo is a film that, if literally nothing else, details exhaustion in a strong way. In nearly every frame of Trumbo, somebody is either smoking, drinking, popping pills, or fighting what seems to be a losing battle. With that, smoking is so commonplace that wafting cigarette smoke could be considered a supporting performer in the film, along with the presence of Canadian Club whiskey and fancy cigarette holders. God forbid you ever invited Dalton Trumbo and his band of like-minded, blacklisted screenwriter friends to your home; the fire department might mistake all the expelled smoke for a repeat of the historic Great Chicago Fire.

The film revolves around its titular character, Dalton Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston), a screenwriter in Hollywood known for his brilliant screenplays that have put him at the forefront of cherished screenwriters in Hollywood in the 1940s. Trumbo is a beloved figure to his peers and the film industry as a whole, but his outspoken support for organized labor, fair wages, and unionism – in addition to being a registered Communist – have him perceived as a Soviet sympathizer during a time when dissent with America’s impenetrable Capitalist system is condemned. Many congressmen and United States judges are serving subpoenas to anyone they feel might have ties to the Soviet Union, and anti-Soviet figures like columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and actor John Wayne (David James Elliott) have intent on bringing such men and women down with the power of the press.

Trumbo is one of ten screenwriters issued a subpoena to testify before the United States Congress regarding Communist propaganda embedded in Hollywood films. Trumbo, in addition to other writers like his friend Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) refuse to answer specific questions, which earns them time in jail and, in turn, an industry blacklist that prevents them from working in Hollywood. Trumbo follows its titular figure’s years in prison and many active years after prison, where he tries to get back into the field under a variety of pen-names and eventually win an Oscar under his own name.

Directed by
Jay Roach
Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers
Release Date
25 November 2015
Steve’s Grade: B+

One particular film Trumbo made was Roman Holiday, which he gave to his friend Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk) to front for him while he was forbidden from writing films. Trumbo went on to write a variety of films for King Bros. Productions, a low-rent film company that churned out b-movies like a bakery churns out cakes. He worked under the strict schedule of Frank King (John Goodman), which had Trumbo works eighteen hour days wand feverishly sweating over a typewriter in his bathtub with little sleep.

Not a single performance in Trumbo is even average; everyone from Cranston to Diane Lane, who plays Trumbo’s wife Cleo, play their roles beautifully. Their shining talents can also be attributed to John McNamara’s script, which allows for eccentric characters and beautifully colorful characters to shine rather than the events that encapsulate them. While Cranston’s quirky Trumbo is the center of attention, smoking, drinking, and writing his life away in such a rigorous manner he’d impress Charles Bukowski, a legion of supporting actors like Louis C.K., Helen Mirren, David James Elliot giving an amiable and cheeky performance as the Duke, and Elle Fanning as Trumbo’s oldest daughter help guide the screenplay down a humorous and enjoyable route.

Roach and McNamara also don’t shy away from the real impact of the Hollywood blacklist, which put not only Hollywood elite behind bars and out of work, but many innocent Americans, as well, who were doing nothing but expressing their freedom of speech in a country that promised no persecution if no crime had been committed. Instead, Congress took action and started an imaginary war on an ideology, a perfect recipe for to instill fear, uncertainty, and empty-headed hatred for people based on abstract concepts that led to silencing an already small minority of people. The result is an incorrigible stain on the fabric of a country that, like a jealous ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, promised one thing and then went on to do another and simply shrugged its shoulders at the toxic and contemptible result.

Trumbo is a beautifully decorated film; if not the colorful costumes of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s bleeding through the screen, it’s Jim Denault’s chic cinematography that compliments the wealth of eccentric performers on-screen. The result is a film that, thanks to its reliance on character and detail, makes one think and relate much more than if a montage of history textbook events were dictated to us, the audience, in a relentless manner.