Set during the Golden Age of Hollywood and at the beginning of the Cold War, Trumbo recounts the events surrounding brilliant screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), who wrote such classic movies as Roman Holiday and Spartacus. In the 1940s, The House Un-American Activities Committee blacklisted Trumbo—an outspoken member of the Communist Party USA. He and his fellow blacklisted peers, known as the Hollywood Ten, were sent to prison for a year. Persecuted by the government, the media, and everyday citizens, while also facing dissent and betrayal from those closest to him, Trumbo continued to write movies for Hollywood after his sentence by using pseudonyms or by passing his work off under the names of friendly colleagues. Eventually, with the support of actor Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and director Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel), Trumbo was able to break the blacklist and receive recognition for his award-winning work. Also appearing in Trumbo are Dame Helen Mirren as a right-wing gossip columnist, John Goodman as a seedy, B-movie producer, and Louis C.K. as Trumbo’s friend and fellow member of the Hollywood Ten.
Dalton Trumbo as a historical figure proves truly worthy of his own glossy Hollywood film, what with his distinctive glasses and moustache, eccentric working habits, and great flair with words. The vastly underrated Cranston expertly portrays the larger-than-life personality of witty, wry Trumbo while still keeping him grounded in realism. He is aided by supporting actors Diane Lane and Elle Fanning, who portray Trumbo’s steadfast wife, Cleo, and headstrong daughter, Nikola, respectively. Although the idealistic Trumbo has the makings of a heroic character straight out of any Hollywood blockbuster, his artistic drive clouds his purpose and his family and friends are needed to remind him of what is important.
The film carefully shifts focus away from Trumbo’s communist leanings (always a touchy subject in America) and allows the story to address broader issues of rights and freedoms, especially that of free speech. Additional issues such as racism and classism are very briefly brought up (Nikola has an apparent interest in the civil rights movement and Trumbo’s even more communist friend derides him for being rich and greedy), but mostly neglected in favour of focusing on Trumbo and his cause. Overall, Trumbo is an enjoyable biopic with an updated message about constitutional rights for today’s messy and hypocritical American political stage and a reminder about the potential power that movies have in impacting society.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 bathtub work sessions