“Friends? What friends? Who the hell has the luxury of friends? I’ve got allies and enemies. There’s no room for anything else.” – Dalton Trumbo, Trumbo (2015).
Biopics are oddly enough some of my favourite films to review. I’m not entirely sure whether or not that’s because they’re easy to write about or enjoyable to watch. My reason for watching this is that I believe Bryan Cranston should have won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Although I hadn’t seen this, I had seen The Revenant (2015) and that was genuinely quite bad. It was mediocre at best, with Leonardo DiCaprio needing the Oscar for literally any other of his film performances. But it’s not about awards or anything of the sort, the question I want to answer is if this film is good or not.
To say the cast for this film surprised me is an understatement. Louis C.K., John Goodman, Alan Tudyk, Dan Bakkedahl and Stephen Root provide excellent supporting performances throughout. Some play members of The Hollywood 10, while others play studio executives and those that were opposed to the writers. John Goodman in particular has some fantastic, albeit very brief scenes with Dan Bakkedahl. Biopics have always surprised me in regard to their cast, and this is no exception, it’s truly marvellous. The job of the supporting actor is, well, to support the leads and the film. That’s exactly what they do here. Not one single supporting actor is used poorly in any way. Louis C.K. and Alan Tudyk especially are stand out actors in this film with some marvellous performances from the two of them.
Surprisingly the only cast member I wasn’t that big a fan of is the otherwise fantastic Helen Mirren. She’s no stranger to biopics, giving a great performance as Alma Hitchcock in Hitchcock (2012). For whatever reason I just didn’t enjoy her performance in this film all that much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible, but compared to the leading Cranston, it’s nowhere near the standard I was expecting. She plays his only opposition when you think about it. Everyone else in the film is pretty much sidelined in one way or another.
To be fair a good performance from Cranston is always expected. Other than a slight blip with Power Rangers (2017) he always gives a truly marvellous performance. As a huge fan of Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013), it’s always nice to see him starring in major movie roles. Cranston creates a very believable performance in that of Dalton Trumbo, an infamously banned script writer, who used pseudonyms to disguise the fact that he was in fact still writing for Hollywood. The best part of the film is absolutely when Trumbo begins to scheme and work behind the scenes to win Academy Awards and make money to keep supporting his family. What I noticed above all was Cranston’s push for showing the dedication Trumbo had to his work, it’s expertly shown.
For a main role to work however, there needs to be exceptionally good chemistry between the lead and the supporting cast. Notable highlights for me were between Louis C.K. and Bryan Cranston, mainly because the two were always at odds, C.K.’s character ironically brings about the moral standpoint of lying to the studio executives. He’s more or less there to highlight the hypocritical nature of Trumbo, and how his actions are causing more damage than anything. One thing in particular I enjoyed is that ever caring nature Trumbo feels for his friends, family and work. Out of all the scenes in this film, the one that highlights it the most is when he wins his first Oscar. You’ll see what I mean when watching this film.
A biopic has never interested me enough to actually go out and buy books and do extended research. Trumbo made me do that. I ended up buying two books and printing off fifty sheets of interview extracts all about The Hollywood 10. Aside from being an awful name for a boy band, The Hollywood 10 is genuinely interesting and the film provides great and factual insights into the political beating they took. Some served jail time, some committed suicide and others simply sold out their friends as a way of continuing to work. Director Jay Roach works tirelessly to make sure the story is both believable and interesting. Sometimes that balance struggles or is stretched, but for the most part it remains unscathed. Although well performed and directed, the cinematography and direction quite simply sucks.
There’s no real balance of colour or anything artistic, and to be fair that is expected considering this is in fact a biopic. But come on, there’s so much more that could have been done. Not one bit of this film screams Jay Roach, because there is no flair. No colour, no unique use of the camera, it’s all extremely standard. There’s nothing wrong with that as I’ve said, it is a biopic after all, I’m just a bit disappointed if I’m honest. Still, he’s managed to create a serviceable biopic that even clocking in at two hours feels a bit short. There’s a lot of material to go over, and explaining an entire life’s work in two hours is a difficult challenge.
If you’re hoping for a film that will explain who the hell Dalton Trumbo is, I’d say this is for you. Going into this film I had literally no idea who he was or what he did. All I knew is that Bryan Cranston was the lead actor, therefore it must be good. How very right I was, considering how much I enjoyed this film I’d say it’s successful in giving a clear message of who Trumbo actually was. Throughout there are some brilliant performances, with Cranston quite easily stealing the show as the titular Trumbo.
It’s a great biopic that’s got some great performances in it but not enough time to show them off. We seem to dart back and forth between this ensemble cast, and it’s a bit shaky at times. Kirk Douglas (not the actual Kirk Douglas) shows up as a minor character in the last twenty minutes of the film.
For the guy that directed the Austin Powers (1997 – 2002) trilogy, this is a surprisingly solid and faithful film. Other than one or two discrepancies, this is a solid biopic that sticks to the facts over the fiction. But that can be the biggest problem of any biopic, the facts sometimes are simply not interesting. If anything I truly hope this highlights how much of an issue Communism is in America. To be fair, it’s this film that gave me the idea for my next larger essay. The roots of Hollywood are to blame for the American hatred of Communism. It certainly seems that way. It’s all made believable thanks to a superb cast and a script so pure it seems natural. On a wildly different note, if you’ve ever wanted to see Bryan Cranston’s bare arse then, well, aren’t you in for a treat.