This review was originally published as part of our TIFF 2015 coverage.
An unapologetically award-baiting prestige picture (characters even discuss the importance of the Oscars on screen), Trumbo takes the usual biopic trappings and applies them to the era of the Hollywood blacklist. It’s an ugly bit of Hollywood history that happened in a time when the studios’ stars were bright and their films were candy-coloured fantasies. The human tragedy that occurred within the glitz has always deserved a great film and while Trumbo might not be it, at least it’s a good one.
Bryan Cranston stars as Dalton Trumbo, a man who was simultaneously Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriter and an open communist. When the McCarthy trials hit La La Land, Trumbo led a team of nine other writers to stand up for their freedoms. They became The Hollywood Ten, serving prison time before being banned from the business. Upon getting out of prison, Trumbo led a movie ghost-writing ring for himself and his banned buddies, starting in crappy B-pictures (personified here by John Goodman’s movie-stealing old timey studio head sleazebag) and eventually secretly writing Hollywood pictures all the way to the Oscars.
Trumbo is ultimately a self-important “ain’t we great” look at Hollywood heroes, but one that gets away with the backslapping cheese thanks to director Jay Roach’s (Austin Powers, Recount) lightly comedic touch. Cranston goes big in his performance, but the flick is stylized enough to contain it and the character/man humorously histrionic enough to justify it. Supporting turns vary from hilarious (Goodman, and Louis CK), to heartbreaking (Elle Fanning), to eerie superstar impersonations (Dean O’Gorman, who will freak you out in his first appearance as Kirk Douglas). The movie ultimately amounts to little more than gentle entertainment with a social conscience, but there’s no denying that it does so pretty damn well.
Read our interview with director Jay Roach here.