(director: Jay Roach; screenwriters: John McNamara/based on the book “Dalton Trumbo” by Bruce Cook; cinematographer: Jim Denault; editor: Alan Baumgarten; music: Theodore Shapiro; cast: John Getz (Sam Wood), Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Diane Lane (Cleo Trumbo), Helen Mirren (Hedda Hopper), Louis C.K. (Arlen Hird), John Goodman (Frank King), Elle Fanning (Niki Trumbo), Michael Stuhlbarg (Edward G. Robinson), David James Elliott (John Wayne); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Michael London, Janice Williams, Shivani Rawat, Monica Levinson, Nimitt Mankad, John McNamara, Kevin Kelly Brown; Bleecker Street; 2015)
“The screenwriter’s fallen angel story deserved a better screenplay than a superficial cable TV one.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The filmmaker Jay Roach(“Meet the Fockers”/”The Campaign“/”Austin Powers in Goldmember“), a helmer more suited to the small screen than the big screen, flatly directed the political biopic. He adapted it from the book Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Cook and it is stiffly written by John McNamara. It chronicles the downfall in Hollywood of a top screenwriter, in 1947, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), who was branded a Red in a HUAC witch-hunt looking to get rid of all Hollywood leftists. When called before the committee because he once joined the Communist Party, he refused to name others.
The political drama chronicles Trumbo’s true story and how it left a black mark on America, as Trumbo and a number of his talented colleagues were blacklisted by the industry, unwilling to fight for their people, for 12 years, of the Red Scare. It tells how the wealthy Trumbo got along with his family of three, served a year in jail as one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten, earned his living by having other writers receive credit for his scripts and went from a rich man to being broke while fighting for his rights.
The pic goes over the paranoid psyche of the public during the Cold War and of the political hypocrisy that prevailed. It works best showing Michael Stuhlbarg as actor Edward G. Robinson, who at first supports Trumbo and later sells him out, and of Helen Mirren as the acerbic gossip columnist Hedda Hopper who railed against him. In 1960, Kirk Douglas hired Trumbo to write Spartacus and the Commie witch-hunt was all but finished when he was given screen credit.
Unfortunately the earnest self-righteous drama, with a grand star portrayal by Cranston, moves too gingerly over the politics of that nasty period to capture the full effect of the harm done to the nation and to the characters pushed out of Hollywood. The screenwriter’s fallen angel story deserved a better screenplay than a superficial cable TV one.
REVIEWED ON 11/20/2015 GRADE: B-