University Programming Board Movie Review: 'Trumbo'

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016 at 6:17 PM
University Programming Board Movie Review: 'Trumbo' by Britton Rozzelle
Bryan Cranston portrays Dalton Trumbo, famed Hollywood 10 screenwriter. The film is directed by Jay Roach.

The scene is set with a man, furiously typing away on a ‘40s-era typewriter. He frantically works as if his inspiration is constantly flowing, writing consistently, hit-after-hit for Hollywood. This is the man who wrote “Spartacus” and “Roman Holiday.” This is Dalton Trumbo.

“Trumbo,” the latest movie in the University Programming Board’s series of films this semester, tells the tale of Dalton Trumbo, an acclaimed screenwriter who was part of the Hollywood 10 — a group of people in the film industry who were blacklisted due to their alleged involvement with the Communist party in the ‘50s. The film, directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers, The Campaign) stars “Breaking Bad” and “Malcolm in the Middle” star, Bryan Cranston, as Trumbo, as well as Louis C.K., Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, and more.

The story and the actors who worked to make this film so emotional and gripping, despite being a biography, should be commended, first and foremost. The starstudded cast are a seemingly perfect fit for the world this docudrama presents to us — with each character coming across authentically. Each of these characters feel like real people, and we, the viewers, are just peeking into the window of their lives as they deal with the blacklist, and not only what it means for Trumbo, but his family and friends.

People come and go in their lives, and these characters deal with hardship in a realistic and gripping way. Part of this incredible realism comes from the excellent writing, attributed to John McNamara, who has worked on various television programs such as “The Fugitive” and, most recently, Syfy’s “The Magicians.” From start to finish, the performances were consistent and powerful — Cranston’s specifically. With this movie, he was somehow able to completely command attention for every single scene, without outshining a single person on the cast.

Despite the decidedly inspiring writing and acting, the direction left much to be desired. This film, and by extension, Jay Roach, took no real risks with cinematography. This is, of course, not to say it was poor in any stretch of the imagination, but compared to similar films like “Good Night, and Good Luck” (a film with very similar subject matter that I firmly believe every hopeful writer and/or journalist should see), it doesn’t deliver the same visual emotion.

That being said, much like the aforementioned “Good Night, and Good Luck,” this film makes very good use of archival footage of the hearings led by the House Un- American Activities Commission, and Senator Joseph Macarthy, as well as classic films that Trumbo had worked on, or around—with stunning recreations of scenes that flow seamlessly with the rest of the film.

“Trumbo” is not a perfect film, but it does many things incredibly well, like the performances of the cast, the writing, and the expertly-executed way it conveys the various time periods this movie spans. This movie is something special, and something I’m almost positive people missed during its original release in theaters. For these reasons, I would give “Trumbo” my full recommendation to those interested in learning about one of the most complex eras, and people, in American history.

Britton Rozzelle is The Arts Editor for The Spectator and he can be reached at

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