Trumbo Blu-ray Review
TRUMBO is the cliff notes version of the Blacklist and of a famous Hollywood screenwriter. It tries to spoon feed you the highlights with no nuisance at all. The details that are so desperately needed to tell a complete story of this man and this time is conveniently left out.
TRUMBO starts ominously as we are informed that people joined the Communist Party in the US in the 1930s to combat the growing threat of fascism around the world. Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is revealed to have joined the Communist Party in 1943. It is not stated though that Trumbo had been following the doctrine well before that. He as much admitted to that to his biographer.
The movie jumps ahead to 1947 as the Communist threat from the Soviet Union is looming. We see Trumbo arguing with a studio honcho about workers rights at a party. Director Jay Roach and Screenwriter John McNamara time and time again try to get you on Trumbo’s side. Here Trumbo is clearly in the right and the studio honcho is wrong in the duo’s eyes. There should be no questioning that.
Trumbo later on is handing out leaflets about the First Amendment to various people attending an event that includes actors, directors and congressmen. Actor John Wayne (David James Elliot) is staunchly anti-Communist. So is gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren). She makes it her mission to out Communists in Hollywood and force the studio heads to not give them work anymore. Wayne has a confrontation with Trumbo after the event which almost comes to blows. Trumbo is seen as the righteous crusader, while Wayne is boorish brute set in his ways. There are no colors of grays here.
Trumbo is joined in his Communist fight by fellow screenwriter Allen Hird (Louis C.K.). Actor Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) was supportive of the cause. The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) called Trumbo and nine others (The Hollywood Ten as they are known) to testify before Congress. Trumbo did not cooperate with the line of questioning about his involvement with the Communist Party of the USA. He cited the First Amendment for doing this. Neither did the other people. They were cited for contempt and sentenced to prison.
There is a scene which has Trumbo talking to his daughter that shows the naiveté of McNamara. The daughter asks Trumbo if he’s a Communist. Trumbo turns it around and gives his daughter a scenario. He asks his daughter to picture a scene in the cafeteria with a classmate. The classmate doesn’t have any lunch, while she has a big sandwich. So what will she do? She of course says that she will share her lunch with the classmate. Trumbo then says that she must be a commie then. This is just a ridiculous simplification of Communism and laughable when you know that Stalin starved millions of his own people.
Trumbo’s life takes a turn for the worse after his conviction. He goes to prison. The studio heads all vow to not employ known Communists. This is known as the Hollywood Blacklist. Friends and foes alike abandon him in this trying time. After he gets out, he can’t find work. His wife Cleo (Diane Lane) stays by his side throughout. He has to sell his large house and go live in a smaller but comfortable house. Trumbo does finally get work with the King Brothers led by Frank King (John Goodman). They were known to put out low budget schlock films. Trumbo doesn’t get a lot of money, but he gets a lot of work. Trumbo is shown day after day typing up screenplays while guzzling booze, constantly smoking and taking amphetamines to stay up. His work ethic is definitely to be admired. He uses pseudonyms during this time. Trumbo gets his blacklisted buddies work at the studio as well.
In the dark period in his life, Trumbo wins two Oscars for his work on “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One”. There has been talk for years that Trumbo did not come up with the story for “The Brave One”. Juan Duval is believed to be the writer of the story. He died before production of the film. His widow Carmen sued the King Brothers over this and they settled out of court in 1962. His son John is still fighting this fight over the true ownership of the story. The movie though shows Trumbo as the person who came up with the story. Trumbo even gets to share his dream about it. It really is stuff like this that makes you question quite a bit on the veracity of what is told.
Hopper and Wayne are clearly shown the twirling mustached villains in this film. Trumbo and the others are the white hat heroes fighting for the First Amendment. Nothing is as easy as that. Robinson and a studio head are shown on screen and off screen to have named names to the committee. Trumbo confronts Robinson and Robinson just states that he has to work. He can’t work under an assumed name. I believe McNamara wants us to not sympathize or understand Robinson’s plight, but with Trumbo because he stuck to his principles. There’s a huge but here though. Trumbo wrote an anti-war novel called “Johnny Got His Gun” in 1939. He later had it pulled during the war. Some people wrote Trumbo asking him how to get the book. He relayed these letters to the FBI. He told the agents that they could be going against the president and that they might be “acting politically”. Essentially Trumbo was a hypocrite in the highest order. Freedom of speech apparently to Trumbo only applied to his beliefs. This part of history is not shown in the film.
The best part of TRUMBO is the final act with Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and Director Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel). Douglas wanted Trumbo to do the screenplay for the epic “Spartacus”. Preminger wanted Trumbo for his movie “Exodus”. They both had power over their films and both gave on screen credit to Trumbo for his screenplays. It was the start of the end of the Blacklist as we know it and a pivotal time in Hollywood. The working in the shadows would soon be over.
Throughout Trumbo’s life, he defended Stalin and his actions. He called him “one of the democratic leaders of the world”. Trumbo is known to have to have fought to have anti-Communist scripts shut down. Trumbo was a Communist and a Stalinist throughout most of his life. The movie just basically skips over this fact. It is an inconvenience not to be talked about. That is the major problem I had with TRUMBO. It does not tell the full picture. A major part of Trumbo’s life was his politics. It’s what he fought for and yet it is a minor player in this film. There needed to be this crucial context to the events portrayed.
The actions of Hopper could be deplorable at times. But people should remember what life was like back then in the United States and the world for that matter. The Cuban Missile Crisis crystallized everything in one event that the Soviet Union was not to be taken lightly and Communism was a real threat.
TRUMBO could have been a fascinating story about a complicated guy in Hollywood. Instead it is a glossed over whitewashed version of events of a dark time in history.
Video: The video was fine. Nothing really stood out for that time period.
Audio: I had much difficulty with the sound throughout. It was a bit muffled for my taste.
Who is Trumbo? (4:02): This is a short recap of Trumbo and his plight. Other characters are briefly touched upon.
Bryan Cranston Becomes Trumbo (1:59): Cranston talks about the character and other actors talk about Cranston. This is really a nothing feature.