Friday, 15 January 2016


Jay Roach's Trumbo plays like a cheat sheet for a pub quiz on its subject - it's all soundbites and shortcuts, a portrait of a man that defines him not by his character, nor even by his achievements, but by whatever quantifiable data it can shoehorn into its unrelentingly expositional dialogue. It's little wonder this biopic is so impersonal, since its concerns lie largely with pithy statements on its subject's Oscar wins, or the specifics of his work process, or the titles of his screenplays. Dalton Trumbo was one of the most interesting figures of his era in the film industry; this film acknowledges this detail almost as a moot point, essentially aspiring to get by on sheer virtue of that interest, rather than examining the reasons behind it. Trumbo is the kind of product that the man himself would likely (or, at least, hopefully) have derided. It's a banal work of self-congratulation, not an endorsement of Trumbo's ideals but of the liberal Hollywood machine. The pristine period recreation, the ebullient tone - foremost, Trumbo wants you to appreciate how great Hollywood is, and only thus to appreciate the integrity of its characters and the laudable audacity of their actions. Like most puff pieces, it's distinctly (and unnecessarily) actor-driven; similarly, like most puff pieces, these actors are as much responsible for its best qualities as they are for its worst. Bryan Cranston develops an identifiable character for Trumbo, though a believable one it certainly is not; better are Diane Lane as Cleo Trumbo, and the winning nonchalance of a typically flaw-free turn by Louis C. K. as Arlen Hird. You'll remember them, if only for the purpose of the pub quiz.