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Review - Trumbo

By midlandsmovies, Feb 23 2016 04:12PM

Trumbo (2016) Jay Roach

Directed by Austin Powers-helmer Jay Roach this film sits with The Big Short as both Oscar nominated and from a director whose previous successes were mainly in light-hearted slapstick entertainment. Leaping from comic to tragic, Roach’s film features Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston as the successful 1940s Hollywood screenwriter blacklisted in a post-war and paranoid America.

His outspoken views on Communism place him in the firing line of columnist Hedda Hopper (a scene chewing Helen Mirren) and legend John Wayne (a good facsimile by David James Elliott) who in their own ways persecute Trumbo and his friends for their provocative opinions. After being called to testify at the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the group refuse to answer questions and are vilified for their views with Trumbo receiving an 11-month prison term.

The film intersperses its historical locations with newsreel footage which in turn is spliced with real-life recreations of the trials. Also, alongside a clever change in aspect ratios (and even some cleverer colour to black-and-white film techniques) it evokes and comments upon the media of the era. The film attempts to cast its eye on hysteria and how audiences are swept along by the moving images and powerful imagery of cinema and eventually the soundbites of television. With Trumbo and his group being accused of being traitors, some of those accused switch sides to inform on their “comrades” in order to protect their own careers. After leaving prison, a broken but still upbeat Trumbo gets back on the horse to write screenplays under a variety of pseudonyms with the constraints of his freedoms still effecting his family.

Kudos should go to a great support cast including Michael Stuhlbarg as actor Edward G. Robinson, Alan Tudyk as Ian McLellan Hunter and the composite character Arlen Hird who is played with gusto by a superb Louis C.K. As Trumbo starts to receive some acceptance of his work, Academy Awards still have to be given to others as he remains excluded from the studio system. Roman Holiday wins Best Story and years later The Brave One brings a second accolade before finally the acceptance of his return is heralded – partly spearheaded by Kirk Douglas during the production of the film Spartacus.

A special mention should go to Diane Lane as Trumbo’s wife Cleo who maintains a human connection in a celebrity-based world and helps show how the witch-hunt had real ramifications on their family, careers and relationships. Involving the children in his work increasingly depicted their domestic desperation although a slightly cynical choice to show by the director Loach.

Cranston deserves his plaudits in an Oscar-nominated performance although after doing some further research, the film has the double problem of fusing together some real-life characters into one (understandably so I guess) but the bigger issue is it’s such a one-sided biography. Trumbo is shown as a First Amendment freedom fighter and some of his questionable ideologies and support for the regimes of Stalin and his cohorts are not even referenced. Ironically, given the style it is shot in, it may be far too black and white for some with the grey areas of the debate being actively avoided.

That said, Trumbo is a fascinating look at a troublesome time when even being part of a fringe group could get you banned from working and its themes of injustice and the trashing of reputations by baying mobs are still prescient today. The crowing of herds echo online Twitter campaigns where political freedom is second to “offense” and so Trumbo’s focus on liberty and uncontrolled free-thought will make current audiences sit up and take a long hard think about how these issues are sadly still very much alive today.


Midlands Movies Mike

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