MOVIE REVIEW: Trumbo (2015)

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“Trumbo” Review
Directed by Jay Roach
Screenplay by John McNamara, based on the book by Bruce Cook

Trumbo is a biopic of Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), a self-confessed Communist radical, who fought of the earthly forces that deliberately unseated him from the comfort of his life and prominence by tagging him as an enemy of the state. Fanning the paranoia and hatred is the gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (played venomously by Dame Helen Mirren), an antisemitic fame-whore who used the controversy to increase her readership.

Dalton Trumbo was considered the most important and prominent of his group, after all, he was one of the highest paid writers in the world. After mouthing off in court, he effectively gets himself and his associates (nicknamed “The Hollywood Ten”) a blacklist from Hollywood; with an 11-month sentence to boot. For some reason, director Jay Roach decided that his 11-month absence was enough to transform his daughter Nikola from a shy pre-teen into a tall and lanky teenager (played by Elle Fanning, post-growth spurt). His wife Cleo (Diane Lane) remains ever steadfast, and proves to be the bind that keeps the family together as they go through the tribulations caused by Dalton’s philosophy.

Accompanying his fall from grace is Pulitzer-nominated writer Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.), who is ready to put his everything into fighting for their right to do what they were best at, since he essentially had nothing left to live for (He was diagnosed with lung cancer, and his wife and children left him after the fiasco). To make things worse, their trusted actor friend/confidante Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) decided to testify against them to end his career drought caused by his known association with The Hollywood Ten. The added pressure of Hopper and John Wayne (David James Elliott) made sure his going turncoat was absolute and irreversible.

After his release from prison, Dalton goes on to defy the blacklist by trying to scratch a living (almost literally) with his writing, to the point that he allowed himself to be demeaned by writing proper scripts for Frank King (John Goodman) and his brother Hymie’s (Stephen Root) B-Film outfit without credit, with the clever ruse of using a different name. Arlen’s pride at being a Pulitzer-nominated writer, and Trumbo’s winning a National Book Award just rubs in the fact that they are only forced to write for King so they could earn a living, and not for them to be able to tell people their message, or use their talents to its full potential.

trumbo movie

Trumbo decides that he needs to be able to create something not beneath his intellectual stature, and collaborates with his English friend Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk). Essentially, Trumbo wrote the whole piece, and Hunter’s only contribution was to use his name as a front so that the script can be used for the movie Roman Holiday. Roman Holiday wins the Oscar for Best Screenplay, and Hunter pays Trumbo part of his earning from the film as compensation, besides trying to make Trumbo accept the Oscar that was never meant for him. He decides to write another film titled The Brave One, this time directly under Frank King (to his surprise), which got him another award, albeit under another pseudonym.

The blacklist effectively ends when Kirk Douglas (The Hobbit’s Dean O’Gorman), who asked him to rewrite the script for his movie Spartacus, declares that the screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo. Director Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) also hires him to write a screenplay based on a book based  on the book of Exodus and promises to give him full credit.

The film definitely has gravitas, and points out what happens to society when democracy fails. His holding on to the First Amendment was the very reason why he loathed the way he was treated, when all he wanted was his message to be heard.

The film does not delve deeper into what happened to Hedda and the rest of the  House Un-American Activities Committee who demonized Trumbo and the rest of the Hollywood Ten, but the film depicts them as bullies, when in their heyday they were probably lauded as champions of free America. All in all, director Jay Roach (who famously directed comedy flicks like Austin Powers and Meet the Parents) may have failed to enrich the storytelling even more, but in the end,  John Mcnamara’s writing about one of Hollywood’s best writers still shone a light into one of Hollywood’s darkest days… it had to be told; and at least now, people know.

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