In 1947 Dalton Trumbo, a Hollywood screenwriter, and several others were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs, labelled as communists attempting to conspire against America. The film based on the book of the same name, written by Bruce Cook, tells the story of how Trumbo fought back against those government officials attempting to squash their rights, and never let them stop him from doing what he knows best, writing screenplays.
In a year where Bryan Cranston earns himself an Oscar nomination the competition is at such a level he has little chance, it seems almost unfair but then watching his performance as Trumbo, it is unclear that he would be worthy of the win. Trumbo’s story is fascinating, but the man himself comes across as not that unusual, he is passionate, talented, stubborn and perhaps even selfish and realistically quite similar to an abundance of characters that have come before him. Looking at the acting in this film as a whole, it all falls under fairly the same type and no one stands out or makes a particular impression apart from Cranston because he portrays our protagonist. Then there’s Helen Mirren who is a great actress in her own right, but chosen to take on a character who 1. Is an American when that accent is not her strong suit and 2. Her character should be practically diabolical in her pursuit to tarnish the reputation of anyone with different beliefs to those in her version of acceptable society, and while that belief does come across, it feels somewhat desperate rather than diabolical. The unexceptional acting may simply be because this film isn’t asking much of them, it is not hard serious material despite the issues it tackles; none of them do a bad job but it’s nothing to scream about.
On the other hand the story itself is utterly interesting and yet to some point that makes it feel as though it has been perhaps embellished slightly, with criticisms made that there are inaccuracies and untrue portrayals. There are really two sides to it, the first half which tackles the issue of these men having their careers ruined by people trying to tell them that they cannot say what they want or believe what they want unless it conforms to the norm of American society, which it does not; then the second half where Trumbo rebuilds his career eventually encountering more and more big names of the past. The first half is full of energy and gets the film off to a great start but as we move past the more political aspect, it struggles to keep the momentum going and even to a point becoming slightly depressing which then means that despite its efforts to pull itself back up it never quite gains the same energy again. It’s rather surprising that given the story and how many famous names and films it involves that it hasn’t been told before, giving the story of the scripts for not only Roman Holiday but Spartacus as well but once the film enters that territory it feels more like a carousel of dropping famous names as though they were a gimmick rather than a genuine part of Trumbo’s story.
The film starts off so well that it is a shame to see it not continue at the same quality and to lose that original enthusiasm but when moving from the issues of freedom of speech and association, to Trumbo’s writing though he was a fantastic writer and an interesting man it comes across on screen as a stubborn old man and sadly not much else. It is a compelling story but seems to have not translated ultimately well from book to film, with the director being the man who brought us two of the Austin Powers films (Jay Roach) and writer mostly having worked on television (John McNamara), it really could have done better and feels not quite worthy of Dalton Trumbo’s story.