Hollywood self-reflection is always a bit strange. When the vapidest of places turns the camera on itself, you never quite know what to expect. So a film detailing the period where they turned so anti-communist that they created the infamous blacklist (which prevented communists from working) and even had several prominent communists chucked in jail, is even stranger. But that is where Trumbo takes us. With, unsurprisingly, particular focus on Dalton Trumbo, the writer of films like Roman Holiday and Spartacus and one of the biggest critics of said list.
Trumbo is portrayed here by Bryan Cranston in one of his biggest roles to date and he does not disappoint. Cranston has always been a respected figure, but this is the first time following his success with Breaking Bad that you feel like he has been given the ball and he runs with it. His Trumbo is a tough man, desperate to fight, but they also not afraid to show his weaknesses. To show how despite his communist leanings he is a big fan of money and how the fight he embarks on hurts both him and his family.
The problem is that the rest of the film rather struggles to keep up with him. It is a very ho-hum depiction of this period. If you go in knowing anything about it, you won’t learn anything new and while it is fun watching Helen Mirren evil it up as Hedda Hopper and John Goodman having the time of his life as B-movie mogul Frank King, it is not enough to truly grip you. In the screening I was in, someone walked out after fifteen minutes and while I think that was slightly insane, I can understand. There is a real lack of a hook. Cranston is great, but is that enough?
Despite that, this is a story worth telling, only so that more people know that the self-titled Land of the Free was not that long ago jailing people because of their political views. Trumbo and the people around him, played with varying degrees of success by the likes of Louis C.K. and Alan Tudyk, were brave men. Who stood up for what they believed in. The more people who know that, the better.
Jay Roach’s film is alright but struggles to be more than that. It all just feels a bit ordinary and much like Spotlight is directed without any flare. However, unlike that film, the script isn’t strong enough to rise above that. It is not as tight as you would have wished and there are times when you lose sight of exactly when and where you are. This is a release that will be remembered for its central performance rather than the film itself.