Before you get too excited by the news that Trumbo is generally an enjoyable film, one that manages to examine American social politics without becoming overly syrupy, you should know that you have already seen it. Whether it was Forrest Gump's rambling fantasy, Mad Men's stylized monotones, or the mind numbing dreariness of The Butler.
Writers discovered the neat trick of examining the wider picture of America in the middle third of the 20th century through the perspective of a single character a long time ago, and there appears to be no will to let it go. That is not intended to be disparaging; it really is a neat trick and one that is particularly suited to cinema, going some way to humanize and nail down huge and wide-reaching themes and present them, or at least the popcorn version, to the audience. This time around we are served the 'true story'-always a phrase to take with a pinch of salt - of Dalton Trumbo and various peers that share his Communist philosophies being placed under investigation by the American governments House Un-American Activities Committee. Without wishing to spoil the plot, that will suffice as an introduction to the story, the shorthand here is for the wider debate about a government's right to directly interfere in a law-abiding citizen's civil liberties and personal freedom.
As for the film itself, there is nothing necessarily outstanding here. It is unfair to suggest that every film produced should challenge the artistic borders of the medium and accordingly this one does not. It's production is slick, the mise-en-scene used to create a panoramic view of three decades of American style and culture is done professionally, believably, no more or less.
Where this film does excel is through the characterizations of its actors and more specifically in the interplay between the earnest pomp of Bryan Cranston's (who has probably just had his Tom Hanks in Philadelphia moment; the step from well liked actor to box office heavyweight) titular character and Louis C.K's excellent, browbeaten Arlen Hind.
The relationship between the two is excellently written and performed, used both to highlight the irony of a white, wealthy and highly employable champion of the people and also to curb the more uncomfortable poetic instincts of the script. This is brilliantly done and exemplified in an early moment where, after some secondary school rabble rousing dialogue from Trumbo, Hind simply tells him to 'Shut up'.
Elsewhere the film is stuffed through with determined performances that manage to pull up short of overacting and moments of well pitched comedy, nearly everything John Goodman says in this film is worth at least a smile. This film will not change your life, but as an interesting portrayal of a time when the movie business was simply a business, where the only groundbreaking artist mentioned, Stanley Kubrick, is described simply as a 'pain in the ass' and left alone, it is well worth watching. The aspect that slightly sticks in the throat is the universal positivity of the ending.
Dalton Trumbo, his colleagues and many other Americans that had been under investigation because of suspected Communist sympathies did indeed find peace eventually, and that is inarguably a good thing. However the wider point of this film, that of the blurring of the line between governance and direct intervention in the life of a free citizen's life by democratically elected officials, is somewhat sidestepped. This particular case may have had some form of denouement but the intervening years have in no way lessened the efforts of governments and even private businesses towards monitoring and interfering in the lives of ordinary people.
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