Trumbo, directed by Jay Roach, is a film that feels like a missed opportunity. The sad irony is that this is a film that focuses on a brilliant screenplay writer, yet it is severely harmed by a script that leaves the film an incoherent mess at times; necessary information that is overlooked, characters that exist in underdeveloped obscurity, and a story that feels lost as to what it wants to focus on. There is quite a bit that sadly makes this film a taxing and confusing watch, so let’s explore what those problems are in this review.
In Trumbo, we learn of the real life story of, Dalton Trumbo – played by Bryan Cranston – who is an American that aligns himself with the Communist party and its ideals. America is deeply entrenched in the Cold War and so anyone who is a member of the Communist party, is seen as a spy and a traitor. Trumbo – who is a successful screenwriter in Hollywood – now finds himself blacklisted (along with many of his fellow writers and friends) and can now no longer work in an industry that once delighted itself and its pockets with his works of fiction.
Trumbo is a film that lacks clear focus. The first hour (perhaps more) of the film is filled with scenes with almost no context. Scenes almost seemed to start half way through; characters would be in the middle of a discussion, one that we had no clear idea as to what it was about, and just as you’d get your balance and feel you understood the motivation of the characters in that scene, it would change… without warning. Then we’d be somewhere else, with a new batch of unknown characters, which were all once again discussing things that we weren’t privy too. This kind of structure went on for some time, and it left me completely removed from the experience.
I wanted to join in, I wanted to be part of what seemed like an important and interesting story, but the film wouldn’t let me. It just kept leaving me in the dark. What this also bleeds into, is the seemingly always growing cast of characters. From big characters to the little ones, Trumbo was a film that got lost in how to clearly tell its story, and in turn left its characters with little to no reasonable development.
However it is in the latter half of act 2 and the whole of act 3 that we get a clearer and more concise look at Dalton Trumbo and his struggle. It is here where the film actually finds a level of focus, and properly directs it at Trumbo and his family. I found that I got a better sense as to who the man was and what it was like in those times, not only for the man himself, but also for his family and other people around him. I only wish that the film had kept this level of consistency throughout. Instead it overfilled the front end of the film with too much inconsistent storytelling. It throws a lot at you in the beginning (and like I already pointed out) it isn’t delivered to you in a way that makes any of it fully comprehensible.
Not having that initial connection with anything in the film means that the stronger second half of the film has to try and do all of the leg work. That’s a lot for half of a film to try to accomplish, and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t fully succeed. So who suffers the most because of the inconsistencies in the beginning? Well Bryan Cranston and his character, Dalton Trumbo of course. The first half of the film gave me no reason to invest in the character. I had no connection with him or the people who were also being affected. That disconnect in the beginning meant that later on in the film, I was emotionally absent from feeling involved. I had no reason to care about characters that hadn’t been sufficiently fleshed out, because the film took the steps in the wrong direction, and I wasn’t where it was.
In fact, let’s breakdown Dalton Trumbo and the performance by Bryan Cranston, and see how it shapes up: first off, Bryan Cranston. I’m a big fan (are as many people) of Cranston and his work. However, in Trumbo, I didn’t really feel his performance was that good; it certainly wasn’t award worthy. While he certainly delivered some stirring scenes, I never really felt it was anything that stood out. Which was unexpected because the character at his disposal, is a very interesting individual.
Dalton Trumbo is a man who fought against a system that was unwavering in its outlook. He faced danger every day of his life because of his political stance, but he was also a brilliant screenwriter, one that created some pieces of cinema that still hold up today – Spartacus probably being the most well-known one – yet in the film he feels completely underserved by the story, the structure, and near enough everything else. In fact, it’s not only Dalton Trumbo that is underserved, but also the other writers who were blacklisted alongside him. They themselves stood for what they believed in and also wrote some incredible films. This is such a fascinating situation that happened, and it is full of such interesting people, yet the film is so lost in its direction that nearly all of it is left to fall between the cracks, never to be seen or fully understood.
The only thing that I really liked about ‘Trumbo’ was the attention detail; the sets, the costumes, the way in which certain scenes were shot (to look like films of the time). Everywhere you look in the film there is something that catches the eye, something that, while inconspicuous, still shines bright in a film that was only able to serve the look of the film justice and not its very important story/characters.
I went into ‘Trumbo’ with excitement and walked away from it completely underwhelmed and disappointed. As I said in the beginning: this film is a lost opportunity; they had a story at their disposal that deserved to be made into a film, it’s just a shame they didn’t know how to clearly do it.
I definitely won’t be recommending Trumbo. The film had the chance to deliver something wonderful and instead completely missed the target; a real shame.
What are your thoughts on Trumbo? Were you as Disappointed as I was? Sound off in the comments down below. If you’d like to keep up-to-date on my other ramblings, feel free to follow this blog directly, or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, it is never not appreciated.