Trumbo (2015)

Posted by Joel Copling on December 8, 2015

The worst crime a film tackling the period of American cinema history in which the government, paranoid of a Communist threat to the American people, rounded up suspected "Commies" within the movie industry can commit is to be apolitical, and "Trumbo" commits that crime rather liberally. This is a movie that wishes to be topical in today's climate of a perceived threat from a certain, Middle Eastern terrorist group and its response from a certain wing of the current American political climate, but John McNamara's screenplay (based on a book by Bruce Cook that shares our protagonist's name) also simply wants to be a standard biopic with the makings of a melodrama. The result is a movie that leaves no impression.

It definitely succeeds at being a melodrama, but that's because director Jay Roach, whose approach is as anonymous as it could possibly be, seems to think its highest ambition should be the standard biopic it is. The film rushes through the introduction of Dalton Trumbo, a renowned screenwriter who offers no quarter regarding his political leanings. He is an unapologetic Communist, one who believes that the solid governmental infrastructure currently in place could easily be better and, worse, explains to his daughter the concept of Communism in a cute nugget that is nevertheless a simplification of its many facets. Similarly, here is a movie that simplifies the man's life to an elongated series of moments without offering any reason why we should find it involving.

Bryan Cranston plays Trumbo as a man constantly giving a performance to the room. When he is first subpoenaed by the United States Supreme Court, he comes across, not as someone who deserves to believe whatever he believes in a country built on the foundation of that, but as an arrogant misanthrope who enjoys this time in the spotlight. His wife Cleo (Diane Lane) can barely stand him, and who can blame her when he outright ignores his daughter Niki's (Elle Fanning) birthday and berates her to tears when she calls him out for it. When he is incarcerated, it's no surprise that Roach and McNamara gloss over any effect it might have had on the man by reducing the sentence to a cheery montage of narrated letters to his family.

Here, also, is an ensemble piece that wastes its formidable cast. Even Cranston looks lost while acting with an elaborate mustache as Trumbo, while Lane offers only the Concerned Wife routine. Otherwise, the only exception is John Goodman, who plays one half of the King Brothers pair (Frank to Stephen Root's barely present Hymie) with a sense of fun elsewhere nonexistent. Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson, Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper, David James Elliott as John Wayne (whom he looks nothing like), Dean O'Gorman as Kirk Douglas (whom he sounds nothing like), Louis C.K. as the terminally ill Arlen Hird--all of them (and more) are wasted beyond belief in "Trumbo," a trifle as inconsequential (More reduction occurs during a final speech that states to the audience exactly what they just gleaned) as it is bloated (Its two hours feel like four).

Film Information

Bryan Cranston (Dalton Trumbo), Diane Lane (Cleo Trumbo), Helen Mirren (Hedda Hopper), Louis C.K. (Arlen Hird), Elle Fanning (Niki Trumbo), John Goodman (Frank King), Michael Stuhlbarg (Edward G. Robinson), Alan Tudyk (Ian McLellan Hunter), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Virgil Brooks), Dean O'Gorman (Kirk Douglas), Stephen Root (Hymie King), Roger Bart (Buddy Ross), David James Elliott (John Wayne).

Directed by Jay Roach and written by John McNamara, based on the book "Dalton Trumbo" by Bruce Cook.

Rated R (language including sexual references).

124 minutes.

Released in select cities on November 6, 2015.