One of the most talented and reliable screenwriters during Hollywood’s famed Golden Age, today, Dalton Trumbo is likely better known as a member of the Hollywood Ten, a group of ten screenwriters, directors, and producers cited for contempt of Congress and subsequently blacklisted for refusing to answer questions about their alleged involvement with the Communist Party. Caught up in a chaotic witch hunt led by politicians looking to cash in on America’s fear of the ‘Red Menace’ in the late 1940’s, studio executives distance themselves from Trumbo, who did little to hide his communist leanings.
As the film that bears his name opens, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is at the top of his profession. Widely respected for his talent and commercial success, Trumbo is the highest paid screenwriter on the film business. He enjoys living on a spacious ranch with his beautiful wife (Diane Lane) and their three wonderful kids. However, as much as he enjoys the spoils of his success, Trumbo, a highly principled man, advocates for underpaid Hollywood workers, which infuriates heavyweights like actor John Wayne (David James Elliott) and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren). He also feels totally comfortable with the principles of the Communist party. In 1947, as the congressional House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) turns its eye on Hollywood, Dalton Trumbo finds himself in the eye of a hurricane.
Written by John McNamara, the first act of Trumbo struggles to find it’s rhythm a bit, bogged down by broad political themes and information, while Trumbo’s writing talents, and how the unfolding events were affecting his family are pushed to the background. Things coalesce when Trumbo finds himself jailed for eleven months after his plan to appeal his conviction for contempt of Congress to the United States Supreme Court fails. Upon release, he’s atop the famous Blacklist, and forced to work under the table. Using a series of pseudonyms or “fronts.” He resorts to giving to giving the screenplay for Roman Holiday to his friend Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk), to take credit and a share of the money. Roman Holiday went on to win the Academy Award for Best Story. Trumbo also wrote scripts for countless B-movies, slowly working his way back to the top. In 1960, the Blacklist is officially broken as Dalton Trumbo’s name appears on screen as the screenwriter.
A polished film with several fine performances, Trumbo makes for fascinating viewing. Bryan Cranston is particularly noteworthy as he gives the title character an admirable strength and dignity, but he isn’t so strong that we ever forget that he’s a man who loves his wife and children dearly. While film is a bit loose with the facts for dramatic purposes, the film has done a pretty masterful job of taking a huge, difficult subject, and creating a broad narrative that is fairly easy to understand. So, while Trumbo doesn’t, and really couldn’t tell the entire story of Dalton Trumbo or the Hollywood Ten, what is here is well worth watching.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Universal has delivered a top tier transfer. Detail is impressive and lush throughout. Depth is spectacular, and outdoor scenes have a notable realism. The earth tone palette is appropriately saturated, and shadow detail is abundant. There are no compression issues to speak of.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is well suited to this dialogue heavy film. Dialogue is clear throughout, delivered largely from the center channel with occasional surround use. Ambient effects such as traffic noise, wind, music cues, etc. are given appropriate attention.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Who Is Trumbo? (HD, 4:02) Director Jay Roach, actors Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Diane Lane, and others offer up a few details about Dalton Trumbo’s life, intercut with numerous clips from the film.
- Bryan Cranston Becomes Trumbo (HD, 1:59) A quick look at how Bryan Cranston prepared for his role.
- UV/iTunes Digital Copy Code.