Trumbo: Review


Dalton Trumbo, the legendary screenwriter and multiple Oscar-winner responsible for such classics as Roman Holiday and Spartacus, is the focus of Trumbo; a biopic with a difference, that brings Cold War politics to sunny Hollywood.

An advocate for workers and civil rights, as well as a self acknowledged member of the Communist Party of the USA, we meet the liberal Trumbo at a time where McCarthyism is running rampant in a paranoid America. Forced to serve time in prison after he and ten other writers are subpoenaed to testify in front of the United States Congress, Trumbo finds it difficult to return to his normal working life on release. 

When the Hollywood Blacklist is created to exclude the likes of Trumbo and other liberals from working within the film industry, the screenwriter comes up with the idea of working under a pseudonym and encourages other blacklisted writers to do the same. A covert operation is soon organised, which sees Dalton and his family selling screenplays to production companies, but it isn’t long before people within the industry become suspicious.

Impressively compacting an extensive period of time in Dalton Trumbo’s life into two-hours, Trumbo is a fascinating and thoroughly entertaining glimpse into the man behind some of the greatest films ever made. 

It’s a politically charged story, and one that is arguably still as relevant today as it was nearly sixty-years ago. It shines a light on a period in the USA where its citizen’s civil liberties were put to one side, simply through the government’s paranoia which, in hindsight, feels laughably ridiculous.

We’ve seen similar stories before and cinema between the 1940s and 1960s, especially alien invasion films, were seeping with Cold War anxiety. That said, we’ve hardly ever seen this story told within the context of how the film industry itself was affected. 

The fact that Trumbo is a film about film is its trump card, and a lot of enjoyment is had in seeing ‘characters’ such as John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Edward G. Robinson playing an important part in the narrative. With events taking place in what is considered the golden-age of cinema, Trumbo is also a very handsome looking film that perfectly captures the smoke, the booze and the glamour that is so often associated with the time.

Bryan Cranston, who has earnt himself an Oscar nomination for his central performance as Dalton Trumbo, disappears into the role and is a fascinating presence to watch. The biggest revelation of the piece, however, is comedian Louis C.K., who is impressive in the supporting role of fellow blacklisted writer, Arlen Hird.

Whilst Trumbo offers little in terms of creative ingenuity and never quite reaches the high standards set by the screenwriter himself,  it otherwise has a lot going for it. It manages to perfectly balance an important political message with what feels like a behind the scenes look at the making of Roman Holiday and Spartacus. For any fan of film, that should be enough in itself to make Trumbo a compelling and captivating piece of film-making.

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