Trumbo | Review

In a new article set Kernel Kate reviews both TRUMBO the movie and then, in a separate article, TRUMBO the book. I love Bryan Cranston, worship his work, I mean I literally prayed to his altar of Breaking Bad for years on end and I just know he will be brilliant in this but he is in the way of my husband winning an Oscar so this year I hope Walter White scores a nice runner up award. TRUMBO is out now on limited release from our friends at eOne ANZ, it runs for 124mins and is rated M. Enjoy Kate’s review……all the best……JK.


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TRUMBO focuses on the dramatic, turbulent, historic years in the life of one of Hollywood’s greatest screenwriters during which time he was blacklisted, jailed, Oscar nominated and eventually broke the Blacklist.

Based partly on Bruce Cook’s biography of Dalton Trumbo while also drawing on other contemporary sources TRUMBO opens in the lead up to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Trumbo is already the biggest screen writer in Hollywood, married with kids and has a lucrative contract with MGM. He also has a tight knit group of friends, colleagues and acquaintances who happen to be Communists.

Meanwhile in Washington something is brewing and it will hit Trumbo and his group hard. Subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities for questioning about their communist leanings they choose to fight for their right to free speech. Their plan hits a snag when two judges expected to be favourable to their position both die prior to the trial date and with politicians, studio heads and Hollywood gossip reporters all turning against them they find themselves out of work and in jail for contempt of congress. Caving to pressure the studio heads terminate their employment forming the now infamous blacklist. With the Hollywood blacklist in full swing barring anyone identified as having communist tendencies from work with the major studios Trumbo finds a way to keep writing and through his collaboration with some less conventional Hollywood players breaks through the blacklist.


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As a film about the life and times of a screen writer widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s best you would expect TRUMBO to deliver a sharp incisive screenplay itself. Unfortunately it falls short. With such complex source material to work with it gets a bit lost in its attempt to represent multiple social and political influences through a limited cast of characters. It focuses on character interactions as a source of conflict rather than the fight against the system but doesn’t deliver the sharp, witty satire this should create. This approach is understandable in a largely political biopic where explaining in detail would slow the pace to a crawl. While the pacing is fairly slow during the first half of TRUMBO this actually proves a strength as it picks up through the second half building excitement in the surging underground screenplay movement.

One of the downfalls of TRUMBO is in Helen Mirren’s character, Hedda Hopper. While Mirren herself offers an admirable performance as the snarky, conniving former actress turned gossip reporter the character’s role is blown out of proportion. Used more as a device to skirt around explaining a myriad of complex political factors than as an accurate representation of the real Hedda Hopper she appears an inexplicably malicious driver of the entire blacklist. Using Hopper to represent the entire force of the blacklist doesn’t achieve the tension and suspense which a story based on Communists and conspiracies deserves. Her push to rid Hollywood of Communists almost overshadows the committee itself making her the bad guy.


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One area where TRUMBO really does stand out is the characterisation and performances delivered across the board. Brian Cranston as Trumbo is, as usual, outstanding and his Oscar nomination is well deserved. Embodying Trumbo’s drive and passion as well as delivering his often divisive opinions with impeccable timing. Louis C. K. as one of the few fictional characters, Arlen Hird, shows us another side in a dramatic role which he performs exceptionally, lending an element of human tragedy to the group. The supporting roles played by Elle Fanning, as Trumbo’s daughter, and John Goodman as Frank King stand out too as exceptional performances in what could easily have become insignificant background characters and while there have been criticisms of David James Elliot and Michael Stuhlbarg not looking enough like John Wayne and Edward G. Robinson I can’t fault their performances.

No Hollywood film would really be complete without a bit of glamour and it’s Hedda Hopper who brings it to TRUMBO with the wardrobe department really excelling themselves with her outfits and signature hats. Mirren is impeccably dressed in bold period pieces throughout giving us a visual guide to place and time. With TRUMBO set largely in offices, prisons and bathtubs the costumes provide a lot of visual interest and are wonderfully executed.

While the screenplay doesn’t quite live up to Trumbo’s legacy this biopic brings some exceptional performances from an incredibly talented ensemble taking us inside an era that very nearly stifled some of Hollywoods greatest talent.


3 and a Half Pops



Having always loved stories one of Kernel Kate’s most frequent childhood memories was her parents telling her in the early hours that it was way too late to still be reading and to go to sleep, but she would always sneak in the end of the chapter. Her love of stories led to a career in movies as well as remaining an avid reader of everything from novels to academic papers and junk mail. She makes a perfect reading machine fit to the Salty Cob.

** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the publisher or distributor – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.


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