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.

Fun Fact

Louis C.K.’s character, Arlen Hird, was not a real person, but was instead a mashup of a bunch of blacklisted writers apparently.

Best Part

All scenes containing John Goodman. Hilarious and wonderful.

Worst Part

Actual* conversation from Trumbo:

Louis C.K.: *coughs*

Trumbo: What’s wrong?

Louie: It’s cancer.




The Film Itself

So this movie was quite a ride in a way that I was definitely not expecting. I’m a big Michael Fassbender fan and I’m a really big Domhnall Gleeson fan. (Everyone needs to go watch About Time.) I was expecting Dom to play the same character he has played in Ex Machina and About Time and Anna Karenina. Quiet and charmingly awkward and bumbling. The first two minutes of the movie made it seem that was exactly what was going to happen. I absolutely loved those first few minutes. (WATCH THIS MOVIE IN STEREO/SURROUND SOUND PEOPLE.) I loved the playfulness of just starting with Dom’s beautiful voice and there were some great shots in the opening of this movie.

However, immediately after the first three minutes, I was repulsed by Dom’s character. I think his name was Jon but I’m going to call him Dom. It just felt like both Dom and the movie were trying too hard to be something. More specifically a quirky and creative something. Quirky and creative are both things that come off as tacky if you have to try at them.

I just quickly want to bring up that Scoot McNairy is in this film. I first saw him in Halt and Catch Fire and I’ve had my eye on him since. There’s just something about his face and presence that pleases me. It’s simultaneously dopey yet somehow has this scary edge beneath it. That’s about all I have to say about his character though. Anyway…

I wasn’t sure how Michael Fassbender would be in this. I love all of his performances but he’s a bona fide movie star so I just was unsure how he would fit in this quirky little indie-type movie. I was sold about 10 seconds into the first song when he hit this amazing high note. It was perfect and his American accent was respectably good.

For the first third of this movie, I was not enjoying it. Like I said before, it was trying too hard to be quirky. There were so many strange characters floating around that you just didn’t really connect to them or find them interesting. Or at least I didn’t. It took me over twenty minutes to realize that Maggie Gyllenhaal was in this movie. But holy crap she was amazing. Such a bad ass.

Guys. I’m kicking myself. I wrote in my notes how much I loved the direction of this movie and I just looked it up and he also directed Room. Alright, need to see that and keep my eye on this guy.

The music was surprisingly good in this movie. Apparently all the actors were playing all the music live. So basically I don’t understand how Michael Fassbender is a human being with that much talent.

I NEED to talk about the hanging scene. Holy crap am I in love with this scene. So this is the point when the movie starts to subtly shift. I was still focused on trying to figure out what the movie was doing with Dom. Why would the movie focus on such a condescending character? Is he really supposed to be a hero? Dom walks out of the cabin on a silent gray morning and begins smoking. The camera slowly pans away and without bringing any focus to it, we see Frank hanging by a noose. So shocking a way to depict suicide but also fitting to the character. The band panics and carries his body to a table. Then Frank walks up to them confused. Now at this point I thought the dead body was an eccentricity of Frank’s world and was just a stuffed mannequin or something. They pull the head off to reveal dear old Scoot. It was just so many layers of surprise, none of which I genuinely saw coming. Delightful. And dark.

Now the genius of this movie is that its true motive is hidden. The first half of the movie focuses on Dom and almost makes you think he should be the hero. It seems like the movie is about inspiration and creating music and all that rot. Thank God it wasn’t. I’m not a fan of those movies. As this movie unfolds, you begin to realize that it’s a bait and switch. The movie centers around Dom but the true heroes are Frank and Maggie. They are authentic and have true talent. At first they come off as holier-than-thou characters but by the end of the movie you realize it’s the opposite. Dom is condescending towards real life and tries to make Maggie and Frank into something they’re not. Not only that, but a big part of this movie is a statement on how we look at mental illness. At least that’s the way it felt to me. When Dom meets Frank, he thinks he’s just eccentric, as we, the audience, do. The papier mache head is just a bit. But we eventually come to understand that Frank does in fact have a serious mental illness. Dom begins treating him as sort of a savant. He talks down to him and isn’t sure how to treat him. I honestly would probably act the same which makes me sad. I’d rather be like Maggie and the rest of the band and be able to treat him like a normal person. And it’s not sentimental about it which is awesome.

I also really love the way they used the face reveal against the audience. Everyone knows it’s Michael Fassbender under there so they trick you and Dom with a lookalike. Even after presenting the real Frank we don’t get a full view of his face until the peak of the emotional apologetic song. It’s beautiful and wonderful.

The Bechdel Test

Frank does not pass but it’s mainly because there’s only three characters that talk much at all, maybe four, and only one is female. Not upset about it. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a bad ass.

Fun Fact

One of my favorite scenes of the movie is when Frank is chasing Jon around a field and apparently that was totally improvised by Michael Fassbender.

Also, at Sundance, the entire audience received papier mache Frank heads.

Favorite Scene

It’s tied with the chase scene I mentioned just now and the hanging scene, but I’m going to have to go with the sex scene. I’ve noticed recently that I don’t usually laugh out loud at movies, especially when I’m watching alone. I suspect it’s because I don’t want to miss anything but holy crap I couldn’t help myself. The sexual tension was so palpable and Maggie Gylenhaal just absolutely went for it. Amazing.

Least Favorite Scene

The whole social media thing. I think my hatred of it is an extension of my hatred for Jon but ugh. I guess it was used really well to show the contradiction between what was actually happening and what Jon wanted to be happening. I just really didn’t like it.