Trumbo is a biopic of the late screenwriter Donald Trumbo, who in the late 1940s went from being one of Hollywood’s top screenwriters to being blacklisted due to his communist beliefs. During the House Un-American Activities Committee investigation into Communism in the Film Industry in 1947, Trumbo and other hollwood figures refused to testify and were included in a blacklist that ensured no-one in Hollywood would hire them for fear of the backlash it would create. The film covers this whole period up to the point the blacklist’s power starts to diminish, and emphasises the devastation of these events on Trumbo’s career and personal life.
Despite the blacklist, Trumbo managed to win two Academy Awards for’Roman Holiday’ and ‘The Brave One’ during a period he wasn’t even supposed to be working. He did this by using pseudonyms, and allowing other writers to take credit for his work. This was his life for a number of years and although there was gossip that he was responsible for some works, it wasn’t until influential figures were willing to admit this, that he felt able to come forward to confess his part in those films.
Although the film does celebrate Trumbo and his work, it does not shy away from showing the screenwriter’s flaws. As well as being an outspoken talented writer, he is short tempered and work obsessed, often to the detriment of his family and friends. As he attempts to carve out a career under pseudonyms in the aftermath of the blacklist, he turns his house into a family business that is centred around him and his needs. He comes across as a ‘bully’ at times as he shouts at his children when they object to carrying out any of his demands, but ultimately you see he is just a man at the end of his wits, trying to do all he can in dire circumstances.
The story is brilliant acted out with a fabulous cast. Helen Mirren is deliciously malicious as one of the blacklist’s most avid supporters Hedda Hopper, using her influence to ruin careers. Comedian CK Louis shows off his dramatic chops in the role of Trumbo’s cynical friend and Fellow Screenwriter Arlen Hird. Arlen is the only fictional character in the film, and his insertion into the story gives the film the warmth and heart it needs, given Trumbo’s own less warm nature. Hird and Trumbo have witty repartee that gives refreshment during the harsher times the movie reflects.
It almost crosses the line into farcical at the end as Trumbo’s comeback is played out and director Otto Preminger and actor Kirk Douglas compete for his writing talents on their latest projects. In one scene, Preminger interrupts Trumbo’s Christmas celebrations, which is far fetched but is amusing. These light touches come close to distracting from the seriousness of what came before them, but thankfully Trumbo is saved by a very touching final scene with Trumbo giving a speech at an awards ceremony reflecting back on the blacklist period and how it affected him and all those around him. Many people were punished because of their personal and political beliefs and the film doesn’t let you forget that. Trumbo is a good tribute to an important time in the history of the film industry and celebrates one of its most memorable behind the screen talents.
Dir: Jay Roach
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis CK
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