Written by Yosra Osman

Arts

Review: Trumbo

Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston stars in this biopic of a Hollywood screenwriter whose own life takes a dramatic turn. Does Yosra Osman think it’s Oscar-worthy or one for the blacklist?

Bryan Cranston stars as real-life blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

Bryan Cranston stars as real-life blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who tapped out Oscar-winning flicks on the sly.

Trumbo is an unexpected turn from Jay Roach, who also directed the Austin Powers films and Meet the Parents. A film about the post-World War II Hollywood Blacklist, in which several entertainment professionals were denied employment because of suspected communist sympathies, it has gathered critical attention and an Oscar nomination for its awesome lead actor, Bryan Cranston.

Cranston – best known as Walter White in Breaking Bad – plays the eponymous Dalton Trumbo, one of the screenwriters most severely affected when investigated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (I’m resisting any comment on the name, hard as it may be).

A member of the Communist party, he, along with other screenwriters, is blacklisted, fired and thrown in jail. The man who wrote – and won Oscars for – the screenplays of Roman Holiday and The Brave One could not even have his name associated with them. In this day and age it seems bizarre, but the blacklisted Hollywood Ten, as they were called, were just one part of the Red Scare that gripped America during the Cold War.

With such an important part of American history being depicted you’d be excused for expecting a dramatic, weighty self-study from Hollywood with grandiose orchestral music and close-ups of serious-looking people. That’s not quite what Trumbo is, which has both pros and cons.

“John Goodman also shows up, doing the ‘I’m-no-nonsense-John-Goodman-and-I-like-to-shout’ performance that you may have seen before – but I love John Goodman, so that’s OK with me.”

I did enjoy Trumbo; it made me laugh in several places, and Cranston’s performance as Dalton Trumbo is magnificent. Every word, every stare, every upturned lip corner: he’s put everything into it and is really entertaining to watch.

The other performances are a bit of a mish-mash and, if you let the corniness slide, are generally good fun. Helen Mirren is pantomime-dame like playing Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnist who wants to destroy many a career. You could easily mistake her for a Disney villain, but she’s clearly enjoying it.

John Goodman also shows up, doing the ‘I’m-no-nonsense-John-Goodman-and-I-like-to-shout’ performance that you may have seen before – but I love John Goodman, so that’s OK with me. It’s just a shame that Diane Lane’s Cleo Trumbo becomes little more than a preened, placid housewife without much bite.

Cliched performances can easily be forgiven, but the general problem with Trumbo is that it’s hard to work out what exactly the film’s trying to do. Among all the pantomime-esque delivery and playing for laughs, odd moments of grave importance appear that could be seen as being in the wrong film.

Historical value also gets lost among the shine. For instance, Dalton Trumbo is a communist, but communism is only referenced properly at the beginning of the film and then it gets left behind. This makes it hard to fully understand what poor Trumbo’s trying to achieve, or why he’s even blacklisted. The film becomes more of a portrait of him and his family, which would be fine, if the politics behind it weren’t originally set out as the narrative backbone.

Considering the confused tone, Trumbo is a better watch if you take it for its lighter side. In view of Cranston, he alone is worth watching. Anyone looking for more understanding into an unfamiliar element of America’s history, however, should prepare themselves to excuse a bit of cheese.

@yozzie_osman

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Written by Yosra Osman

Yosra Osman is a mid-twenties film fan and self-confessed daydreamer of dangerous proportions