Tuesday 26 July 2016


Bryan Cranston has proven himself as one of the most versatile actors in the history of film and television. After years of varied small appearances, he had his first big break in the year 2000 with his iconic role as the hapless and adorably weak Hal in Malcolm in the Middle. 2 years later, he won the leading role in a little show called Breaking Bad…

 In a career that also includes roles in everything from Family Guy to The X-Files, here’s a man who can do everything. With Trumbo, Cranston brings us his first big leading role in film. Oh, and his first Academy Award nomination.

Trumbo, which is out now on DVD & Blu-ray, tells the true story of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. “Who the f*ck is that”, I hear you cry. Settle down. Trumbo is the man who wrote classics like Roman Holiday, Spartacus and The Brave One – although you wouldn’t know it. Blacklisted by the motion picture industry for communism, he had to write his films under other writer’s names and sell these screenplays in something of a Hollywood black market. Crazy story. Should make a pretty good film, right? Everyone likes a story about fighting the power and standing up for yourself!

Well first of all, Bryan Cranston is absolutely incredible in the title role. If it wasn’t for DiCaprio’s performance this year – and maybe Fassbender’s, too - he might’ve had a shot at taking home the award. It’s a powerful piece of work, and a moving tribute to an incredibly complex and principled man. Trumbo never gave up on his beliefs and refused to accept the system – he’s a man we can all learn from, even today. Cranston is a better Dalton Trumbo than Dalton Trumbo himself, making this role his own and stealing every single scene. An unforgettable performance. But is Cranston the only good thing about Trumbo?

Not quite – some of the supporting cast are pretty excellent, too. John Goodman shows up to do his John Goodman thing, as the somewhat unhinged movie producer Frank King. If you don’t like John Goodman, you need your head examined. The hilarious Louis C.K. is brilliant playing it straight as one of Trumbo’s cronies, while Michael Stuhlbarg is superb as actor Edward G. Robinson. Special mention should go to Dean O’Gorman who delivers a mesmerizingly uncanny performance as Kirk Douglas – recreated Spartacus scenes within Trumbo are astonishing. It’s not all great though - Diane Lane struggles to make the generic wife role very interesting, while Helen Mirren is utterly ‘meh’ as Hedda Hopper – the iconic gossip columnist recently spoofed in the Coens’ Hail, Caesar!.

Outside of Cranston’s performance and some of the supporting cast, Trumbo isn’t a brilliant film. Narratively it’s often a little aimless and visually, it looks and feels like a TV movie. Much of it feels amateur and cheaply produced, especially for a film with Oscar hype surrounding it. It’s overly simplified and linear, with direction that just doesn’t feel confident - but then we must consider that this is one of the first big dramas from Jay Roach, the man who brought us Austin Powers. Hardly the sort of guy you’d expect to make a drama about communism within Hollywood. But hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere.

Trumbo is quickly forgotten but, although sometimes historically inaccurate, is still a fascinating watch – even if it only serves to make you want to research the true story and seek out the brilliant documentary of the same name. If you like cultural history - or maybe you just miss Walter White – it’s absolutely worth a watch. Just don’t expect too much from it. It’s a perfect example of the performance being far better than the film it exists within. 

Despite boasting a phenomenal performance from Bryan Cranston, Trumbo is a clean-cut and pedestrian film that could’ve done a lot more with the fascinating true story it tells. 3/5.


Sam Love

Trumbo at CeX

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