The name of Dalton Trumbo may be a name that’s only well-known to film buffs and students of cinema, but it’s truly a name that more people should know, not only because of everything he accomplished as a screenwriter, but also because of his bravery in standing up against injustice during the darkest time in cinema history. The Blacklist that came about during the 1940s prevented several screenwriters like Trumbo from working, at least in any official capacity, but that wasn’t about to stop him from doing what he did best, even if it meant doing it on the down-low.
“Trumbo,” as the film is aptly named, begins when the titular screenwriter (Bryan Cranston) is already well-known, having earned an Oscar nomination for “Kitty Foyle” and praise for his book, “Johnny Got His Gun.” However, it is around this time that the “Red Scare” has started to grip the country, causing a lot of people to be suspicious of Communists, a party that Trumbo is a member of. He and several other screenwriters are forced to testify before Congress, but they all refuse to answer the questions, eventually causing them to be sent to prison and “Blacklisted,” which means that they are no longer allowed to work in the industry.
When Trumbo finally gets out of prison, he finds himself in need of money for his family, forcing him to find other means to get his screenplays out there. For instance, he gives the script for “Roman Holiday” to a friend of his, Ian McClellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk), and asks him to take credit for it. Meanwhile, Trumbo goes to work for a B-Movie production company, doing rewrites under different names, and even coming up with some original material. It’s not long before some start to get suspicious that it’s Trumbo doing the work, including a gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), who has been hounding him all along. Eventually Trumbo is approached by Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger to do rewrites for their films, both promising to put his real name on the pictures. This is obviously a very risky move, but with big names on Trumbo’s side, it just might be the major shakeup Hollywood needs.
Dalton Trumbo’s story is an absolutely fascinating and compelling one, so it comes as no surprise that a film about this important part of his life works so marvelously. Here we have a man who knew that the persecution of these screenwriters was wrong and tried to do something about it, and even when everything he tried didn’t work, he still found ways of doing what he had always done: writing and selling screenplays. What’s particularly amusing, and might be something you may not know, is that Trumbo earned two Academy Awards during this time (one for “Roman Holiday” and another for “The Brave One”), awards he obviously couldn’t take credit for at the time.
Just from that fact alone, we can see the absurdity of trying to stop someone from working based on their beliefs, as he was clearly a great screenwriter, a fact that eventually made Kirk Douglas (“Spartacus”) and Otto Preminger (“Exodus”) ask him for help. Both of them gave him full credit under his real name, which I suppose you could say was them spitting on the Blacklist, and when big names like that showed their disdain for the injustice the list had caused, it was bound to create a ripple effect. Luckily that’s exactly what it did.
The other major reason the film works so well is the top-notch cast that was recruited to bring the story to life, a cast that includes Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Michael Stuhlbarg, Diane Lane, Alan Tudyk, and John Goodman. Everyone here is at the top of their game, including Cranston, who does a fantastic job of bringing the eccentricities of Trumbo to life. All of them leave a lasting impact, which is not always the case with casts that have this many big names in them, but when they play off of each other this well, it leads to something quite memorable. It comes as no surprise that this ensemble earned a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Cast, an award that, when compared to the other nominees, the film should have easily won.
With its outstanding story and cast, “Trumbo” is one of those films that you can’t help but get lost in. Film buffs will take delight in seeing the story come to life after having heard about it for so long, while those who are unfamiliar with the titular screenwriter will be compelled by a fascinating story that they’ve never heard before. Even 60 years later, it’s a story that still resonates and has important things to say, with “Trumbo” telling it very well. All things considered, it easily ranks as one of the best films of 2015.
“Trumbo” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. Every frame of the film presents a beautifully-sharpened image that doesn’t show a single bit of grain. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is outstanding, giving you all elements of the soundtrack in exceptional quality. Overall, there’s not a single problem to be found in either area, leaving you with the best experience you could possibly have.
Who is Trumbo? (4 Minutes): A brief featurette that features interviews with the cast and crew, who give you a basic overview of the story and characters. Easily skippable.
Bryan Cranston Becomes Trumbo (2 Minutes): A very brief featurette that doesn’t go into any depth. It too is easily skippable.
With a top-notch cast and a compelling story, “Trumbo” delivers a fascinating piece of cinema history that easily ranks as one of the best films of 2015. This is a story that’s been told before through documentaries, but to see it dramatized this well is a total delight that will please not only cinephiles, but also those just looking for a film with a great narrative. Whichever group you fall into, “Trumbo” is a film that should have a spot near the top of your to-see list.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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