Take a Drink: for every cigarette that is smoked onscreen (responsibly)
Take a Drink: for Communist name-calling
Take a Drink: every time you want to punch Hedda Hopper in her face (props to Helen Mirren)
Do a Shot: for actor David James Elliott doing his best John Wayne. Respect to Elliott, it’s a thankless job to try and act like the mid-20th century’s most recognizable actor, but he tries hard.
Do a Shot: for John Goodman shouting
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is a highly paid Hollywood screenwriter when his life is sent into turmoil by the rise of anti-Communist sentiment following the end of World War II. As a member of the Hollywood Ten, a group of screenwriters jailed for contempt of Congress, Trumbo found himself and his colleagues blacklisted, and unable to find work upon release from jail. Desperate to support his family and continue writing, Trumbo emerged as a leader of sorts, organizing a black market script-writing/doctoring ring working for various studios under the radar, with their names left off the screenplays. As the scripts emerging from this group begin to gain prominence with audiences and critics, Trumbo and company find themselves in increasing demand, and yet officially still unrecognized. Trumbo is approached by several filmmakers/producers who plan to use his work as a way to break the blacklist, by revealing his name at the proper moment…
Bryan Cranston has been a working actor since the 1980s and only very recently has gotten his due, thanks mostly to his starring role on the series Breaking Bad. As an actor in films, however, Cranston has still been playing mostly supporting roles. Trumbo is really his first shot at carrying a major release, and Cranston does not disappoint. Those who saw the 2007 documentary of the same name know that behind his trademark push-broom mustache, Dalton Trumbo was a theatrical and highly eccentric personality. Cranston’s portrayal of Trumbo is as a highly self-satisfied prima donna whose biggest saving grace is the fact that he also happens to be both talented and on the right side of history.
Rather than assume the audience likes Trumbo, Cranston makes him a figure who the audience needs to take time with and buy into. It takes an assured performer to play it as big as Cranston does here, and Director Jay Roach should be congratulated for nurturing this trait in his performers.
Speaking of the direction, Roach is a filmmaker most well known as the director behind the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents films. So how does a director of such high-concept comedies do with heavier material? I was genuinely impressed with the way Roach’s comedic background meshes with Trumbo. Roach finds humor in the desperate situation Trumbo faces, and his unorthodox response to it, and together with the screenwriter John McNamara, the film manages a delicate balance of dramatic and humorous themes.
The most overt comedic element in Trumbo arises from the characters of the King Brothers (John Goodman and Stephen Root), a couple of low-budget producers from a streetwise background. The King’s know that the majority of their films are terrible, and they don’t care, and aren’t afraid to say as much to anyone within earshot. One particular scene, in which Goodman is approached by an anti-Communist activist about his secret use of Trumbo’s work, ends up being my pick for the best single moment in 2015 cinema so far. Additional supporting performances of note include Louis C.K. as screenwriter Arlen Herd, perhaps more cynical than Dalton, and paradoxically also more idealistic.
Alan Tudyk plays Ian McLellan Hunter, another screenwriter under fire who Dalton gives credit to for his screenplay for Roman Holiday. Michael Stuhlbarg plays the famous actor Edward G. Robinson like a greek tragedy, as he is faced with making some tough choices when his finances are threatened by his own political activities. Finally, Christian Berkel stuns with a hilariously accurate depiction of the teutonic titan of 50s-60s cinema Otto Preminger.
While there is a lot to admire in Trumbo, the film can occasionally sink into over-sentimentality. This is a common symptom facing many biopics, and one that is difficult to cure. Most notable is a subplot involving Trumbo’s increasing isolation from his family in order to get his work done, which puts a strain on his relationship with his oldest daughter and his wife. These diversions thankfully do fit thematically into the story, and don’t do too much to hamper things. And the relationship with his daughter is mended in a very effective scene that Cranston delivers on with absolute sincerity, which helps put the film back on track.
Trumbo proves that most of the biopic format trappings can be overcome with clever dialogue, superior performances, and surprisingly effective direction by Jay Roach.