The Film Itself
Gonna be honest, didn’t care for this film.
I was excited to see it because it’s such an interesting topic and who doesn’t love Bryan Cranston. I love a movie that has great writing, and as this movie is about a great writer, I thought it would have great writing. Not so much the case.
Going into this movie, I knew it was about a screenwriter in the Hollywood Ten and that’s about all I knew so I figured this would probably focus on the trial and that part of Trumbo’s life. Not so much the case. The trial happened and Trumbo went to jail in maybe the first third of the movie. So at this point I was confused as to what the point of this movie was. I think maybe the writers were too.
The biggest problem with this movie is that it is sprawling and directionless. I recently listened to the “Biopics” episode of the Maltin at the Movies podcast where they discussed J. Edgar, saying that it lacked a thesis. In many ways, including this one, Trumbo had very similar problems to those they pointed out in J. Edgar. Was this movie about Trumbo’s quirky personality? Was it about freedom of speech? Was it about the unjust persecution of harmless communists? Was it about Trumbo’s relationship with his family? Was it about the secret writing he did while blacklisted? Yes. The movie was about all of these but I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint which one was the pinnacle. This really held the movie back.
It’s really upsetting because this movie held so much potential. It could have been a really interesting period piece. However the lighting was terrible and made the movie feel like it was definitely not the 1940’s. It could have been a very powerful statement about freedom of speech. The movie came closest to achieving this, but only really in the first half. It could have been an interesting portrait of a quirky, strong character. While Bryan Cranston pulled this off to an extent, the writing really held him back from nabbing that Oscar. All of the writing in this movie should have been so much sharper and wittier and less… didactic? The movie could have been about persisting in the face of oppression, but no. Trumbo just entirely lacked focus and that was really upsetting.
Also, the aging makeup was terrible. Bryan Cranston looked the same age throughout the film, spanning at least three decades, except towards the end they threw some baby powder in his hair. Also, Louis C.K.’s character had to have been older or at the very least the same age as Bryan Cranston’s, seeing as his grandkids were the age of Trumbo’s kids. That idea is downright laughable.
There were still parts of this movie that were enjoyable, for instance, the middle third of the movie or Elle Fanning. But overall I just grieve for what this movie should have been.
The Bechdel Test
This movie almost passes, but I’m gonna say it doesn’t. There is one scene in which Nikola and Cleo talk about using a punching bag or whatever, but it’s really a conversation about Nikola’s anger toward her father. I mean I guess it’s not surprising since this movie centers on the life of a man in the 1940’s but still. You could give your female characters a little more credit.
Louis C.K.’s character, Arlen Hird, was not a real person, but was instead a mashup of a bunch of blacklisted writers apparently.
All scenes containing John Goodman. Hilarious and wonderful.
Actual* conversation from Trumbo:
Louis C.K.: *coughs*
Trumbo: What’s wrong?
Louie: It’s cancer.