Dalton Trumbo may have been one of the most fascinating and brilliant screenwriters ever to come out of Hollywood. To experience his work, I feel, is to experience the work of a man like Mozart, a man blessed by God with the talent to weave brilliant stories almost without trying. I have no doubt that this was his manner, but I also believe that his work must have come from blood, sweat and tears.
Yet, Trumbo’s legacy is scarred by the events that, for many years, removed him from his profession. In 1947 he was sent to prison for contempt after refusing to answer questions regarding his communist affiliations (he was a communist, just so you know). He was blacklisted by Hollywood and no one would hire him. For years, he worked under assumed names, writing brilliant scripts for pictures of no significance – though he did write Roman Holiday without a screen credit. Despite his inability to work in Hollywood, he won the Oscar twice, first for Roman Holiday and then for The Brave One for King Studios Productions.
The movie Trumbo shows us only a shadow of Trumbo’s life. It makes the case that his genius was an excuse for personal flaws. Trumbo is a sanitized version of the red letter moments of the great screenwriter’s life and paints him in great shades of sainthood that, if you the real story, you know simply isn’t true. This is a very safe reenactment of one of the most troubling chapters in the history of motion pictures. There were heroes and villains on both sides of the McCarthy hearings, but this movie tips so far in Trumbo’s favor that while you experience the genius of his writing, you never quite get the saltier parts of his personality.
That is not to take anything away from a terrific performance by Bryan Cranston who occupies the role of Trumbo without affectation – he’s really the best part of the movie. Yet, watching him, you wish he were stuck in a better movie. Watching Trumbo turn lead scripts into cinematic gold, you find yourself wishing someone had done the same for this movie.