At least once a year there is a film that has a very solid central performance, however it is the quality of that performance that exposes the mediocrity of the film they’re in.
“Trumbo” stars Bryan Cranston as the titular screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who along with others was branded a Communist in 1950’s America and blacklisted. Trumbo then begins to write uncredited scripts, all while trying to stay true to his beliefs. Diane Lane, Helen Mirren and Louis C.K. co-star and Jay Roach directs.
“Trumbo” should be right up my alley because I love me a good script, Bryan Cranston is good in anything he does, and 1950’s Los Angeles is my favorite period in time. So it is all the more disappointing that “Trumbo” is an average film with an above-average performance, and a few fun and interesting points can’t save a dragging narrative and workmanship execution.
Dalton Trumbo’s real-life story is a fascinating if not frustrating one as he was jailed, shunned and all but exiled simply for his political beliefs. And the film does do a decent enough job illustrating Trumbo’s struggles, however it never really delivers the message home to the audience as much as it thinks it does. The film wants to make the viewer angry that the screenwriters were fired and blacklisted simply for belonging to the Communist party and that their first amendment rights were infringed upon, but you never truly feel like they were cheated beyond the fact the characters continue to spoon-feed you lines about equality and freedoms.
Cranston does a very good job in his portrayal of Trumbo. Trumbo was an eccentric character, writing scripts in his bathtubs and walking around with a parrot on his shoulder, and Cranston does a good job to make this unique man relatable. He seems to want to give every person the benefit of the doubt and hates to disappoint people, even those who testified against him in court. Meanwhile Louie C.K. does some nice nuanced work as a fellow blacklisted writer, who constantly questions Trumbo’s intentions and points out that he “talks like a radical, but lives like a rich guy.”
The biggest problem with “Trumbo,” ironically, is its screenplay. A lot of the dialogue comes off as exposition or made-for-TV schmaltz, and the plot is all over the place, and really none of it is paced well. It is almost like the filmmakers wanted to get all the cliffnotes of Trumbo’s career into the film (his arrest, ghostwriting for B-movie studios, writing “Spartacus” for Kirk Douglas) but weren’t sure how to make that 20 year period mesh well together, so they just filmed them and hoped it would all work out well in the end; it didn’t.
I am going to be honest: this is one the worst paced films I have seen in years. When Trumbo gets released from prison I thought to myself, “well geez, there’s probably only 30 minutes left in the movie, they really are going to have to cram a lot in.” Except there wasn’t a half hour left in the film; there was probably an hour 15. Then the film takes forever to wrap up before finally concluding with Trumbo delivering a speech, which essentially acts as a summarization of everything we have just seen for the previous two hours.
Several points throughout “Trumbo” a character tosses a script on the table and says, “this isn’t great, but there’s a good story in here,” and that’s exactly how I feel about this movie. Cranston is great and some of the behind-the-scenes of old-time Hollywood are interesting, but all too often the dragging plot and cheesy dialogue are too much to overcome, and that’s a shame, because Trumbo’s story and struggles deserve to be shared and honored. The movie is admirable in its efforts, but unfortunately underwhelming in its execution.
Critics Rating: 5/10