Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Film: 'Trumbo'

A film of 'quality'!

The story of Dalton Trumbo, Hollywood screenplay and script writer (mainly in the 1950s), and his struggle with the film industry, through the McCarthy 'witch-hunt trials', trying to blacklist and ostracize him for his membership of the Communist party.

Bryan Cranston, a name I didn't know (I see he's done a lot of TV work), plays the title character - and Diana Lane plays his wife, another name I was unfamiliar with though I see that she has appeared in a number of films I've seen in less up-front roles. Helen Mirren is the obnoxious and viperish (under a velvet glove), reactionary and flamboyantly fashion-conscious gossip writer, Hedda Hopper, all-powerful with her ability to influence public opinion through her bitchy magazine columns, which can determine the fate of anyone to whom she takes exception, especially political opponents. (She'd have been a shoo-in for 'Fox News' these days!)

It's a rivetting sweep of a story even though I knew where it was going. Although I was too young myself at the time to be aware of the trials, a number of well-known names are depicted here which show with clear effect which side they were on (if anyone didn't already know) - John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Otto Preminger - and, most significantly, here in the earlier portion of the film Edward G.Robinson, and, in the latter part, Kirk Douglas.
If the film does momentarily run low on steam in the final third it does pick up speed again effectively. I could have done without the long concluding speech where we might have made our own identical conclusions through all that's gone before, but I suppose it wraps it up neatly (maybe too neatly?)
I must also mention with some regret that there were some howlers of continuity lapses. Why do they let these get through? Do they really think we wouldn't notice? Unfortunate - as well as being distracting! 

Director is Jay Roach, that same director of the Austin Powers films, who demonstrates that he can manage high drama every bit as successfully as he can do comedy.

The filmed story told, with liberties taken to simplify, has a lot going for it and I left the cinema feeling well-satisfied, though also aware that it's a story still being played out in Hollywood - not now with a campaign against card-carrying 'reds' of course, who'd be every bit as much of pariah status as before (their number must now be down to minuscule, almost non-existence levels anyway) - but the saga continues. As we are all currently reading, where money talks, the spotlight right now has settled on 'minorities' (including women) represented on screen. So in that sense, the general air of self-congratulation in eliminating the Communist hunt that this film ends with is now transferred to other areas not mentioned, though naturally without such penalties and the threats/realities of unemployment that were utilised in the case of McCarthyism.  

I've heard unfavourable comparison being made of this with another film concerning the same issue of blacklisting at the same period, namely Martin Ritt's 'The Front' of 1976 (with Woody Allen in a non-comedic role). I liked that earlier film a lot too but this new one takes a different slant, concentrating on Trumbo's personal struggle with others of his ilk and amongst members of his own family. If the earlier one did carry a bit more punch, it's only by a slight margin.

In the final analysis, though, this one did leave me feeling it was a well-spent couple of hours of entertainment..............7.5.


  1. I haven't seen ANYTHING! However, Brian Cranston is always exceptional. Check out the cable TV series "Breaking Bad" if you can.

    1. This would be a good film with which to break your 'fast', Mitch. It's substantial in content and presentation.

      'Breaking Bad' has been on TV here but was on far too late for me, as have all the widely-praised TV series of recent times. I don't have the means to view them at other times, so for now I'll have to take other people's word of their excellence.

  2. "Trumbo" is supposed to be coming soon to an 'art house' theater in Columbia and I hope to see it.

    I remember "The Front;" I thought it very good, so I look forward to a different slant on this issue.

    1. It's only very rarely that this subject has been brought to the cinema screen, Bob. I guess a large part of that is the film industry's own guilt and embarrassment at their connivance with the American government's reactionary forces.
      There's no doubt that this is an altogether more weighty affair than 'The Front' and that while this new one has considerable merits, if I were to choose one of them to view again it would be 'The Front'.

  3. This one sounds of interest. I'll have to look for it as I had not yet heard of it until now.

    1. It's had a fair bit of publicity here, F.B., and even been on shown on main multiplex cinema chain screens, so I'd be very surprised indeed if it also hasn't had a widespread theatrical release in the States.
      Bryan Cranston has got a Best Actor nomination for this part in tomorrow's Oscars. He won't win, of course, but it should increase a general awareness of this film and make it more widely seen, something it undoubtedly deserves.