Review: Trumbo

Words by N.O.W.

Directed by Jay Roach and set at the end of the Great Depression, Trumbo follows the story of a Hollywood screenwriter named Dalton, played by Bryan Cranston, who is well known for his contribution to film. In 1943 Trumbo joins the Communist Party USA and he and a band of friends who are also writers are then blacklisted. Dalton Trumbo is represented as resilient in pursuing his screenwriting career, not only to be at the forefront of film production but, to show that the state has no right in preventing creatives from work, irrespective of their personal political viewpoints.

The film also stars Helen Mirren who plays Hedder Hopper, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Maldonado, John Getz, Diane Lane and David James Elliot. Screenings of Trumbo can be found at all Picture House cinemas, Cineworld, ODEON and Empire.

The film opens with a multitude of clips that build an overview of Dalton Trumbo’s career successes: published books, awards and accolades alongside a black and white framed image of him in army attire sat across from Ronald Regan. Sat in front of his typewriter or, in the bath with a bath caddy catered to his writing exploits complete with an ashtray, sheets of text waiting to edited, a tool used to prop up these papers and a crystal tumbler containing some brown ‘potion’, Trumbo is depicted as a workaholic, a man with strong principles and beliefs.

Nonetheless Trumbo and a collective of friends, “radicals” known as the Hollywood 10 are dealt a multitude of barriers preventing them from screenwriting because of their political beliefs. In September 1947, 19 subpoenas were served to Trumbo and the other members of the Hollywood 10. Their uncooperative manners lands them in prison.

With Hedder Hopper’s heavy influence, a popular Hollywood film columnist, it near impossible for any member to occupy a prevailing force in cinema with a blacklist that details their names. Communist directors, screenwriters, actors at the time were said to be a part of a “conspiracy to corrupt democratic values and bring about the overthrow of this nation [America]”. A sharp contrast is drawn between the public’s view of Hopper against her true character and her hidden agendas. The greatest representation of this is the scene where Hopper is asked for a photo, playing to camera she poses with an alluring smile, once the camera man disappears her face returns to that of disinterest and scorn.

The audience play the ‘fly on the wall’ in witnessing how and what political opposition to communism looked like in America. Communists are repeatedly cited in Trumbo as a “threat”, a menace to American values such as democracy. Jay Roach is able to effectively face the mirror of truth towards those who sought to blacklist film-makers, writers and other creatives to portray the strong air of authoritarianism in a country where freedom of thought and expression should be a birth right.

Trumbo is an enjoyable watch with the occasional jibe at comedy in a satirical manner. Behind these attempts to lighten the tone and feel of the topic matter of freedom of thought, belief and expression raises the question if we are unbound to pursue life in which ever way is right for us individually. The film outlines an important truth about how politics can be a dominating force in creative industries where some might argue there is no place for government influence.

Draw your own depiction of Jay Roach’s Trumbo at Picturehouse Hackney this Thursday at 13:55.


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