Dalton Trumbo, known for penning such classic films as Roman Holiday and Spartacus, had a knack for drama–in both writing it and living it. He was a quirky character who always spoke his mind in spontaneous phrases–a feature that is satirized a few times in this film.
Trumbo stars Bryan Cranston in the title role and details his career starting in 1947 as a successful screenwriter, and then subsequently a blacklisted one for his support of the Communist party.
This film comes from all sides of the situation. It shows how Trumbo has it easy compared to his actor counterparts, as they can’t hide under another name like he can. It also doesn’t directly blame any anti-communist believers’ fears, since they’re just a product of American propaganda, but it does show them as being porous in logic.
It also shows the struggle Trumbo begins having with his own ego and how his political stances get fewer and far between. His family life with his wife and kids takes a toll as well. But the film reveals an amazing glimpse of a great man who means well, but simply loses his way and his intent due to his attempt at proving himself to the ignorance that surrounds him–an understandable evolution. Cranston details this development seamlessly throughout the film in a way that makes you not realize it happens after the fact.
For the most part, the pacing is pretty consistent. It starts quickly and doesn’t waste much time with setup. Throughout we get so many scenes that it almost feels rushed, but retains its sanity enough so that it only comes off as paralleling the turbulence of the era. Every scene jumps to the next so briskly. However, there is one point in the film, about 3/4 of the way through, where Trumbo develops a relationship with director Otto Preminger. Not that this portion of Trumbo’s life isn’t important, but most other scenarios are shown to us as if through a slide projector, while this particular instance is given so much screen time that it becomes a distraction. It slows down the film so much for such a minimally significant part in the story. But once again, it’s only noticeable because of the juxtaposition of it to every other portion of the film. Just a minor hiccup.
Diane Lane plays Dalton’s wife, Cleo, the rock that Trumbo leans against for support and who makes him see his actions. Louis C.K. does a great job as the fictional character Arlen, Trumbo’s contemporary, who is also blacklisted and imprisoned for his beliefs. He provides a great straight man to Trumbo’s eccentricity, making the audience realize his actions. Actor Edward G. Robinson is played by Michael Stuhlbarg, who works well physically, but lacks every bit of Robinson’s timbre and trademark voice inflections.
The film isn’t ridiculously long, but rightfully feels like it is. You don’t feel like anything is left out of the story, but also don’t feel as though you are told too much.
Trumbo does well to shine a refreshingly positive light on communism at its purist form, educating a brand new audience, making them think about its ideals in reference to our world today.