CAPSULE: Dalton Trumbo has been for many years a person of singular interest in Hollywood. He went from being one of the most respected film writers to being blacklisted for his political beliefs and unable to sell his work. After refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, Trumbo was added to the blacklist. For years he could sell his film writing only under a false or borrowed name. His story is very much the story of the Hollywood blacklist. In 2007 that story was told in Peter Askin's film TRUMBO. The current TRUMBO is a narrative film telling the story of how Trumbo came to be blacklisted and how his case eventually broke the blacklist. The story is told well and with wit, and it tells how the First Amendment was seriously threatened by the government sworn to uphold it. And it tells how a small set of filmmakers fought and defeated the Hollywood blacklist. Jay Roach directs a screenplay by John McNamara from the book by Bruce Cook. Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
Hollywood makes films about people who are heroic. But most filmmakers do not have to be themselves heroic. Dalton Trumbo did. TRUMBO tells the story of how Dalton Trumbo had joined the Communist Party as a reaction to the pain of the Great Depression. It was perfectly legal to do that. Later the United States government had a turn for the more repressive. Members of a perfectly legal political party were questioned by the House Un- American Activities Committee, and if their answers to the questions did not please HUAC, their names could be put on published lists of Americans said to be disloyal to the country and to be agents of the Soviet Union.
Bryan Cranston, the star of "Breaking Bad", comes to a big screen that he does not have to share with Godzilla. Called before HUAC he refuses to answer questions the committee had no right to compel from him. He is found to be in (reasonable) contempt of congress. This is when Trumbo finds which of his friends really were friends. The film profile many recognizable film industry people. Of particular interest are the profiles of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg). The film's most enjoyable scene involves John Goodman playing Frank King of the King Brothers.
With the people being portrayed being familiar faces 1950s Hollywood the filmmakers had to decide the issue of whether the actors would have to be made up to resemble the people they depict. The approach apparently was to use archive footage for people without speaking roles. We see people like Humphrey Bogart and Danny Kaye, but only on archival footage. For speaking roles such as John Wayne, there seems to be only minimal effort to make the actor resemble the original. David James Elliott plays Wayne with a face that is not very much like Wayne's and what sounds like a poor voice impression of the Duke. The viewer just has to force himself to think "Wayne" when he is on the screen. Think Robinson when Stuhlbarg is there. For Kirk Douglas there is a special need for actor Dean O'Gorman to look like Douglas from a distance.
Some liberties were taken with Trumbo's story, including that no mention is made of the fact that when he was writing under false names he was living in Mexico. The film shows it as southern California.
The Trumbo presented is far from being saintly. In many ways his family had life worse than Trumbo himself. And Trumbo is mostly blind to the needs of those around him. His family is presented as being understanding, but politics was destroying his family's relations just as it was hitting artists and filmmakers. One nice touch in the writing is nice explanations of Trumbo's philosophy. When his daughter asks him if he is a communist and is she herself. He shows through a quick thought experiment what he believes and why her own philosophy might be consistent with the (theoretical) principles of Communism.
For a film on a relatively serious subject there is surprising wit and suspense in this story of reluctant heroes. I rate TRUMBO (2015) a high +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3203606/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/trumbo/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2015 Mark R. Leeper