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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Monday, December 07, 2015

Movie Review - Trumbo

Trumbo (2015)
Starring Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, and John Goodman
Directed by Jay Roach

Dalton Trumbo (played here by Bryan Cranston) was one of Hollywood's most sought after screenwriters in the early 1940s, but his Communist political leanings led him and many other Hollywood artists to be questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).  After refusing to testify in front of Congress, Trumbo went to jail for a year in 1950 and, upon his release, found himself blacklisted in Hollywood with no one willing to hire him because of his politics.  Trumbo details the title character's story and his fight to get back into the profession he loved.

Director Jay Roach is known for his wacky comedies -- Austin Powers series, Meet the Parents -- and in his first theatrical foray into drama, he unfortunately doesn't quite succeed.  Trumbo feels like a film inhabited by caricatures rather than a film inhabited by actual people.  Because of this, we lose the emotional connection needed in order to really feel for Trumbo and his plight which is admittedly a blight on both our government and the Hollywood machine of the 1940s/50s.

While Bryan Cranston plays things straight for the most part -- although certainly embodying the witty, literate side of the screenwriter -- many of the other major players in the film are told to chew up as much scenery as possible.  Helen Mirren exudes snarky evilness in every line reading and movement as Hedda Hopper -- gossip columnist and strong anti-Communist activist.  While the HUAC was certainly an ill-advised group, portraying Hopper as a vigilante gung ho on bringing down Trumbo proves to be laughable as opposed to realistic.  (The problem here is that Hopper may very well have been the way she's portrayed, but the film makes her out to be so comically and vehemently vile that she loses any sense of reality.)  John Goodman as a bellowing low-budget film producer who hires Trumbo after his incarceration is also simply playing a stereotypical brash bigwig.  Other than Cranston's Trumbo and Diane Lane's portrayal of his wife Cleo, everyone depicted here feels fake.

Trumbo is reminiscent of a film made in the 1940s and 1950s where actors would be playing broad versions of undeveloped characters as opposed to a film made in the 2000s that looks back on that era over a half century ago and really delves into the issues.  Light-heartedness certainly works in a comedy depicting the 1950s and it works in portions of Trumbo as well except that this film -- and Dalton Trumbo himself -- deserved a film that also gave this man's struggles (and those of his peers) the gravitas they deserved.  All this being said, I appreciate the light that Trumbo shines on this pretty disgusting time in Hollywood history, but I wish the film itself was a better representation of the era.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

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