The heck with well intentioned…it’s just not very good. Why do a major motion picture about the communist witch hunt of the late 1940’s, cast it with a slate of wonderful actors–and then have them play overblown caricatures? And to top it all off, why throw poor deceased legend Edward G. Robinson (played by the usually reliable Michael Stuhlbarg here. I said usually.) under-the-bus? He never “named names”, but this movie treats it as fact that he did! Dramatic effect? Give me a damn break. It sullies the man’s name. Plus, I don’t know if anyone acts like an actual human being in this movie–they’re all so wildly over-the-top. Bryan Cranston has his moments as Dalton Trumbo, but even he can’t escape unscathed. Helen Mirren practically chews the scenery as infamous gossip monger, Hedda Hopper. Maybe Louis C.K. (of all people!) scores the most points as composite character, Arlen Hird. I believed him. But it’s a missed opportunity, by director Jay Roach and screenwriter John McNamara, to make this important story real and gripping.
Dalton Trumbo (Mr. Cranston) is a renowned and wealthy Hollywood screenwriter in 1947. He’s also an outspoken communist. Living quite well with his wife, Cleo (a tragically wasted, Diane Lane) and their children, Trumbo comes under fire from the House Un-American Activities Committee for being a communist sympathizer and propagandist. As one of the “Hollywood Ten”, Mr. Trumbo is brought before the United States Congress to testify–but he refuses to incriminate any of his Hollywood friends. Eventually, Dalton spends almost a year in federal prison, and then struggles to find work upon his release after being labeled a traitor to his country. However, Trumbo finds a level of success writing screenplays for lower level film studios under a pseudonym. That until, some people in the know, begin to decipher just who this mysterious “hot writer” really is.
Director Jay Roach is well-known for both his “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents”series, so, from the outside, you might think him unsuited for this heady material. You would be mistaken. His 2012 “Game Change”, is an HBO film concentrating on Sarah Palin’s involvement in the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. Julianne Moore as Palin (a film I praised here on this very blog) was achingly real as the running mate of Republican Presidential nominee, John McCain. I personally despise her politically, and most everything that she stands for–but Moore made me feel bad for Palin. It’s a performance that won multiple awards. I’ll bet “Trumbo” gets some Oscar nominations for its acting–but that’s just a reflex. Cranston has been touted and terrific for a few years now, so he won’t be denied. But “Trumbo” the film is a great story told in a simplistic fashion. It’s all music-swelling plateaus. The damn humanity is missing, and it plays like a television movie. John McNamara has a healthy resume as a television scribe, but this is his first screenplay as a feature film screenwriter. Tough transition? I think so.