3.5 stars
We're at war, a new kind of war. One that doesn't exist.
Against the backdrop of the Cold War, Dalton Trumbo was one of Hollywood's greatest screenwriters. He won two Academy Awards from three nominations and turned a low-budget horror studio into a gold mine. But he, like the war, didn't exist – at least, not officially. Having been named by colleagues he had considered friends, then blacklisted by the Un-American Activities Committee, the unapologetic communist sympathiser was banned from working in the US. Which he didn't, at least, not as Dalton Trumbo. Check the screenwriters of The Brave One or Roman Holiday, and the many fronts or pseudonyms the prolific writer used to get around the ban.

This is the story of Trumbo, an often fascinating study of a relatively unknown 'legend', directed with considerable wit and flair by Jay Roach (Austin Powers). He's working from a robust script by John MacNamara and ably supported by Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) who, as Trumbo, turns in another compelling performance. There's something delightfully appealing about this dogmatic, compulsive, bullying and frequently obnoxious character who refused to cower to authority. Cranston inevitably brings some of Walter White's mania to Trumbo while adding new layers to create a fresh, vital character.

A number of Hollywood heavyweights populate the story – notably Edward G. Robinson, John Wayne and Kirk Douglas. Most appealing is arch gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren – Woman In Gold) who led an hysterical agenda to rid the industry of communists, their friends, allies, and Trumbo in particular. She brings extra levity to the story as her plans succeed and crumble with alarming frequency. Likewise John Goodman's (Red State) opportunistic producer who sheltered (exploited?) Trumbo to write eminently bankable B-grade shockers like Gun Crazy.

There's a lot to like about Trumbo, notably the story's historical background and a wit-laden foreground: the man's workaholism and insane focus nearly cost him his marriage (witness the bathtub scene in which a recalcitrant Trumbo, high on Benzedrine with signature cigarette, is heartily churning out rewrites to his latest masterpiece). Yet despite a willingness to engage, there is something aloof about Roach's direction that often detaches its audience, an experience exacerbated by its length.

Despite its problems (which are agreeably minor), Trumbo is an intriguing film and a welcome reminder about the dangers of overwrought witch-hunts, overreaching bureaucracy and overworked fathers. It makes for a hearty companion piece to Hitchcock that like that picture, opens a window on a time barely remembered yet joyfully recalled.


Previewed at Roadshow Theatre, Sydney, on 8 December 2015

Bryan Cranston
Diane Lane
Helen Mirren

Jay Roach

John McNamara



124 minutes

February 18, 2016
Trumbo (2015) on IMDb
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