Movie Review: Trumbo

As a fervent anarcho-capitalist with many radical ideas of my own, I harbor great contempt for ideologies that prohibit the freedom of thought, personal defense, and economic gain. Systems that promote control and regulation directly contradict what it is to be human and they must be eradicated with extreme prejudice. But I am not enough of an anarchistic maniac to oppress and discriminate against those I disagree with. Doing so would make me no better than the systems I oppose. The most reasonable course of action when dealing with people you disagree with is calm, professional debate… or make of them whenever possible.

Apparently, we forgot this simple concept in not only today’s social climate, but during the Red Scare of the ‘50s. Many lives were ruined as ordinary people lost their livelihoods to paranoia and turned on one another to avoid persecution. Thanks to the Blacklist, many in Hollywood were named and their careers ended because no one would hire them. Does Trumbo paint a true to life picture of that turbulent time or did it try too hard?

Bryan Cranston plays the titular character, a registered communist and screenwriter known for Roman Holiday, Spartacus, and Exodus. Come the Red Scare, Trumbo resorted to writing B-Movies under a pseudonym to support his family. As time went on, he gained more notoriety to point he was writing award winning films that would eventually end the Blacklist.

And that is about it.

Trumbo is a very straightforward biopic about a period rarely touched upon when it comes to movies about Old Hollywood. It is detailed and extensive in what it covers between 1947 and 1960. You learn about the Hollywood 10, the internal relationships of both the business and the personal lives of those involved, and the affect of Trumbo’s schemes on his wife and three children. The movie has great depth for what it portrays and that is the problem.

Like Straight Outta Compton, Trumbo is so dense it is overwhelming to point you question why certain things were included and why they were so drawn out. The lead up to Trumbo’s incarceration was pointless because it is already established he is more or less out of the picture as a screenwriter who must go outside the system to work. There was all this detail and build up to something that could have started right at the beginning. Learning about Trumbo’s family, his associates and the other Hollywood 10 did not need 40 minutes of screen time. If you ask me, the film would have been better if it focused on the creation of Spartacus in the guise of a heist or spy movie.

I started paying attention to Breaking Bad about the time it was ending and AMC was showing a marathon of the past seasons. It did not take long for the show to affirm Cranston’s skill as an actor and Trumbo is no exception. From a humble voice actor of anime, to a two-time award winning communist screenwriter, the man knows what he is doing. He has equal parts charisma and subtly as Trumbo outwits the Hollywood system while trying to retain his sanity.

Everyone else in the cast was passable and carried their weight. Elle Fanning stood out as Trumbo’s daughter Niki, struggling with her father’s anxiety. John Goodman played a minor role as Frank King, a producer of B-Movies who is pragmatic enough to hire Trumbo despite his politics. Louis C.K. shows up as Arlen Hird, one of the Hollywood 10, and did a good job as a victim of the Blacklist that remains stalwart in his convictions.

Considering the density of its narrative and wealth of history, Trumbo is difficult to recommend. On the one hand, it is full of depth when it comes to depicting the minutia of the period. On the other, there is so much going on that the film bloats itself by trying to cover all of it. If you do not know anything about the era, you will certainly learn a lot. But if you want something restrained with a consistent, linear plot, buy your ticket and wait about 40 minutes after the start time before entering the theater.

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