Trumbo tells the tale of Dalton Trumbo: acclaimed screenwriter of The Brave One, Spartacus and Roman Holiday, who was blacklisted and imprisoned in the United States in 1947 for his affiliation with the Communist Party at the height of the Red Scare in America. As with Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, it’s a film which sees director Jay Roach of Austin Powers and Meet The Focker’s fame taking a political, biographical left turn in his filmography.

Truly, the film is a spotlight on Bryan Cranston. After his leading turn in Breaking Bad, one of the most acclaimed projects of the twenty-first century so far, all eyes were on him for his first major screen role, and it comes in Trumbo. Once again, Cranston affirms why he’s one of the greatest acting talents to surface in his generation: just as the Hal of Malcolm in the Middle disappeared into the conflicted evil of Walter White, so too does the drug lord disappear within seconds of screen time as Cranston disappears into his depiction of Dalton. It’s a less challenging role than White, although footage of the real man in the credits makes apparent the preciseness of his performance, played with authoritative intellectualism, with fleeting moments of anger and vulnerability.

Unlike biopic Suffragette of 2015, which got much promotional millage out of a one-scene appearance from Meryl Streep, Trumbo actually downplayed an all-star cast featuring the likes of Elle Fanning, Helen Mirren and John Goodman, with whom Cranston previously appeared with in Argo. A surprisingly sizeable appearance comes from writer, stand-up comedian, director and producer Louis CK as Dalton’s fictional ally Arlen Hird. Not often noted for his acting, the comedian actually brings a great pathos and levity to the role (and for TV fans: seeing the leads of the incredible Breaking Bad and Louie is something of a thrill). Unfortunately the other kin Trumbo shares with Suffragette is a fairly by-the-numbers approach to the tale at hand.


Trumbo depicts an undeniably enthralling narrative, which never bores across a two hours run time: but it can occasionally feel like, beside some stellar performances, it is riding a little on a story that’s inherently interesting, rather than the direction doing much to enrich the narrative with too many artistic flourishes. Though far from a comedy, there is a perplexing sense of levity running through the film which does somewhat hint towards the roots of its director. The cinematography is often beautiful, the opening shot and ensuing countryside scenery being especially striking, but it does often feel like a fascinating story was put to film, and little more. There are moments in the movie where little major plot points came and went with little emotional resonance, because it feels like Roach assumed that just because something was sad when it happened in real life, it would be when he laid it on screen too.

The script too lacks a little weight. Though filled with peppy dialogue and strong characterisation, unlike last year’s Selma, Trumbo chooses character drama over political bite. Both Selma and Tangerine both seemed to have capitalised on the civil rights movements so prevalent in the year of their release: Trumbo is equally opportune given the rise of the left and far right in politics on both sides of the Atlantic in the past few years, but fails to capitalise on the exploration of such ideologies to any degree. Indeed Dalton’s communist beliefs are explained to his daughter as a simple matter of sharing, and the topic is pretty much put to bed: it’s both a political simplification, and one that stands testament to how deep the film wanted to explore it, alongside the dichotomy of a man convicted for his communistic leanings, while living a life of luxury.

The Verdict

An entertaining and thought provoking film – with excellent lead performances, that could have used a little more inspiration in its execution.

Liam Inscoe – Jones

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Images from ‘Trumbo’, Bleecker Street

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1 Comment

  1. John Duval
    February 16, 2016 at 15:54 — Reply

    Trumbo the film, I do not judge the fine actors nor their performance in this make-believe film, but I take exception that there is value or a substantive message learned from untold truth, innuendo and the manipulation of facts by the writer, producers and the director of this film.

    Aside from the political debate, the movie Trumbo misrepresents the avarice conniving men that Trumbo and the King Bros were. Trumbo and the King Bros were all about the money and getting attention to that end.

    Trumbo was not a hero, he was a ruthless grandstander who mislead and toyed with the media about many things and the most important among them, to me, was his plagiarism of my father’s work.

    Trumbo lied about being the original author of the screenplay that the 1956 film, “The Brave One” was based.

    My father, Juan Duval, was the author of the original screenplay which the film “The Brave One” was based and awarded the Oscar for “Best Original Story”. My father died before film production and the King Bros and Trumbo unashamedly took advantage of it.

    Trumbo was a prodigious writer and during the Blacklist period he wrote and rewrote scripts for less money for low-life producers like the King Bros and anyone else who paid him under the table. Frank King’s nephew by marriage, Robert Rich, was the fourth person listed as the author of “the Brave One” (after the King Bros removed the title page of the original script) and was an afterthought and not initially intended to be a front for Trumbo. Per the FBI report, Rich was an office errand boy and bag man who picked up scripts and delivered cash to Trumbo.

    Roman Holiday may be Trumbo’s original story for all I know (and I love the film), but Trumbo was not in Italy during the shooting where much of the script was re-written by Director William Wyler and screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter. They wrote script on set day to day and the nights before shooting the film, as was Wyler’s method of film making. After Hunter’s death, his son would not return the Oscar (and rightly so) when asked by the Academy so the Academy could then issue the Oscar to Trumbo decades later. In my opinion, the success of the film was due to Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn’s splendid performance of romance against the background of post WWII Italy.

    Proof that Trumbo did not write the original screenplay and plagiarized my father’s screenplay is revealed in Trumbo’s book of letters, “Additional Dialogue”, page 270/271 wherein he explains to the King Bros that he, “ruthlessly cut all extraneous material and scenes, and kept rigidly the simple story of the boy and the bull”. Trumbo cut 50 pages from the original screenplay.

    No matter, it was my father’s original story and not Trumbo’s, which was the category the Oscar was awarded. The Academy should issue a posthumous Oscar to my father, as they did for Trumbo for Roman Holiday.

    If you read the screenplay marked #1 and the redacted letters in Trumbo’s book, “Additional Dialogue, Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-1962” and compare them to the rewritten scripts and un-redacted letters archived at the University of Wisconsin Library, it’s obvious that Trumbo didn’t write the original screenplay, otherwise, why would he criticize and complain to the King Bros in so many letters about the original screenplay.

    “The Brave One” script marked “#1” has 170 pages and is archived in the University of Wisconsin Library along with 5 other scripts. The script marked “#1” is the only script missing the Title page and author’s name.

    Then there is the “first version” (133 pages) and “second version” (119 pages) of the scripts listed “Screenplay by: Arthur J. Henley”.

    The last two scripts are listed “Screenplay by Merrill G. White and Harry S Franklin on the early movie posters and “Original Story by Robert L. Rich” was added to scripts later.

    When the King Bros listed their nephew Robert Rich as author they had no idea that “The Brave One” would be nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Story. At first, Frank King said that there was no such person as Robert Rich and later he said that they bought a 6-page script from a Robert Rich who was away in Germany or Spain.

    Robert Rich (the nephew) did not attend the Oscar awards because he turned informant for the FBI who were watching Trumbo and Rich didn’t want to be publicly humiliated when the truth came out. And Trumbo used the excuse for not being able to produce the original screenplay for The Brave One on his residence being burgled while intimating that it was the FBI who tossed his residence (FBI File Number: 100-1338754; Serial: 1118; Part: 13 of 15). The FBI did in fact toss his residence but had no interest in scripts.

    White and Franklin were editors and acting as fronts for Trumbo before and after “The Brave One” movie. The King Bros did not initially intend that their nephew Robert Rich be a front for Trumbo as White and Franklin were first listed as the screenwriters on the movie posters of The Brave One. It was only after the media played up the no-show at the Oscars that the King Bros and Trumbo saw an opportunity to play the media and sell tickets (per Trumbo’s letters to the King Bros).

    Juan Duval, poet, dancer, choreographer, composer and director of stage and film was born in Barcelona, Spain in 1897. He matriculated from the Monastery at Monserrat and moved to Paris in 1913 where he studied with his uncle M Duval. Juan Duval was renowned as a Classical Spanish and Apache dancer and performed in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain. Juan was fluent in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and English.

    In 1915, Juan Duval was conscripted into the French Army and fought in Tunis and Verdun, where he suffered head wounds and was partially gassed. He came to the US in 1918 and joined the US Army and was then stationed with the 50th Infantry in occupied Germany for two years before immigrating to the US where he directed live theatre and taught dancing and acting at his Studio of Spanish Dancing on Hollywood Blvd across from the Warner Bros Theatre. Juan produced Cave of Sorrow (Play); Lila (Musical Comedy); Spanish Love (Drama); Café Madrid; Spanish Revue; Night In Paris (Drama) and choreographed “One Mad Kiss” (musical) and at least one sword fighting scene with Rudolf Valentino. He directed movies in Mexico and Cuba including the 1935 highest grossing Spanish speaking film, “El Diablo Del Mar” starring Movita (Marlon Brando’s second wife).
    Before former Director of the Academy of Arts and Sciences Bruce Davis retired, he told me that because of the documentation that I provided him, he was inclined to believe that my father wrote the original screenplay which the movie, “The Brave One” was based.

    The Academy gave Trumbo an Oscar for “The Brave One” 20 years after the Oscars and posthumously gave him another Oscar for the Roman Holiday in 2011.

    The Academy of Arts and Sciences should recognize my father’s original story and posthumously awarded him the Oscar for “Best Original Story” for “The Brave One”.

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