I heard about Trumbo quite some time ago because I worship at the altar of Bryan Cranston, but I never really got the urge to see it until Oscar season, when Mr Cranston was duly nominated for Best Actor. It just seemed like one of those movies: a well-made, well-acted, albeit somewhat boring Oscar bait.
Well, I’m glad to say that despite my reservations, I enjoyed Trumbo a great deal. It’s a fascinating true story (though I know it has been criticised for historical inaccuracies) with universal themes that are still relevant today, and the brilliant cast led by Cranston does a magnificent job of conveying the tale in a breezy but respectable fashion. It is indeed a drama that might have had Academy voters in mind, but boring it definitely is not.
For those who don’t know, Trumbo follows the life of legendary scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo (Cranston), who was imprisoned and blacklisted by Hollywood due to his active membership in the Communist Party during the McCarthy era. I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea who he was before I watched the film, because the dude penned some of the most classic films ever made, and he seemed to do it with ease and inhuman speed.
It’s actually a very simple film that runs chronologically and with quite a conventional structure. But director Jay Roach (who surprisingly directed the Austin Powers films and Meet the Parents, but more recently has delved into more political topics like Game Change and The Campaign) does a solid job of taking advantage of the simplicity in his execution, keeping the story flowing and the characters developing all the time without ever making it difficult for mainstream audiences to follow.
Consequently, Trumbo is unlikely to wow many people, though it’s hard to deny that it is still fun, educational and enjoyable. While the tone is light, it knows when it has to get serious to bring out the drama and conflict, and Roach manages to transition between the two with commendable ease.
And the cast, the glorious cast. Apart from Cranston, you’ve got the marvellous Dame Helen Mirren as a snarky anti-communist columnist, Diane Lane as Trumbo’s wife, Elle Fanning as the daughter, John Goodman as a studio exec, Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis CK, Alan Tudyk, David James Elliot (remember the guy from TV’s JAG?), and special mention to Dean O’Gorman, a dead ringer for his character Kirk Douglas. Little did I know O’Gorman’s actually played Fili in The Hobbit. All that star power doesn’t overwhelm the film, and each of them are so good that you nearly forget that you’re watching recognisable actors.
Having said all that, the trade-off with the lightness and simple fun of Trumbo is that it inevitably has less layers and emotional impact. The result is a very good movie that falls short of being great or memorable.
3.75 stars out of 5