December 28, 2015


A terrific cast, fine performances, and a fascinating and relevant chapter in American history are let down by - oh the irony! - a weak screenplay.
Bryan Cranston is terrific as the successful Hollywood screenwriter who is willing to go to jail - and put his family through the wringer - rather than forfeit his First Amendment right to belong to the Communist Party during the Cold War. He's a royal pain in the ass and a terrible father and husband, but he's witty and he has his principles, so his charm carries us along with him. It's truly amazing that he went on two win two Oscars while blacklisted and writing under pseudonyms.
Diane Lane is given mostly nothing to do as his wife except look concerned when she espies Trumbo mixing whisky and barbiturates - while smoking in the tub no less! She finally gets a good speech when Trumbo hollers at his kid (Elle Fanning) while shunning her 16th birthday party.
Cranston gets to deliver some sharp jabs, especially when confronting John Wayne at a political event (former JAG television star David James Elliott does a fine job in the thankless role) but too many pivotal scenes feel cliche'd - the old "protagonist learns his old friend died unexpectedly" scene - or wooden (Trumbo finally reveals how proud he is of his activist daughter).
Playing Edward G. Robinson - a unique Hollywood face if there ever was one - is a tall order, and Michael Stuhlbarg nails that odd upside-down mouth just right. He plays an interesting conflict in the movie star's life- Robinson is an ally of the blacklisted Hollywood 10, even to the point of selling a Van Gogh to pay for their legal defense, but Robinson is blacklisted himself when his association with the Ten goes public. Unlike Trumbo, who finds his way back into screenwriting via surrogates and pseudonyms, Robinson only has one face for the movies, and chooses to betray the Hollywood 10 to Congress in order to restore his film career.
Dean O'Gorman is perfectly cast as Spartacus star Kirk Douglas. Is that chin dimple a special effect? Playing an actor who's playing a gladiator should be easy for him- he played a warrior dwarf in three Hobbit movies, plus countless episodes of Hercules and Xena on TV. German actor Christian Berkel is hilarious as demanding director Otto Preminger.

Theater Notes

West Newton Cinema, Screen 6. West Newton specializes in independent films, foreign films, movies for seniors, and Jewish Cinema. I am amazed at the trailers they show. First, a genocide movie- it was hard to tell which genocide because trailers for foreign-language movies try to hide the fact that you'll be reading subtitles for two hours by not including any dialog in the trailer. A really depressing-looking marriage movie 45 Years starring Charlotte Rampling, who is gorgeous at any age; and a trailer for a sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which was greeted with absolute, complete silence from the two dozen patrons watching it. If the screen had been blank the reaction would have been the same. All the jokes in the trailer were met with nothing. It was GRIM. Everyone in America saw the first movie 13 years ago, but no one has been asking for more.
I have endured chatty, entitled crowds at the West Newton Cinema, so I attend movies there with some trepidation, but I have to try to remember the good crowds too: the crowd did not talk during Trumbo, but one developmentally disabled adult in the front row let out a series of long groaning sounds at random intervals. It did not affect my engagement with the movie and it was impossible to get upset about it.