“You write every scene brilliantly,” Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) half-jokes to Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) on the porch of his house, where they’ve been working on the script of the 1960 film Exodus. “And I will direct unevenly.”
The quip would function almost too well as a cipher for what happened with Trumbo, except the screenplay isn’t brilliant, either. It has its moments. Once in a while, it’s fantastic. But Trumbo mostly suffers from the now agreed-upon affliction we might call Important Biopic Syndrome, in which all the material that makes for a good movie gets vacuumed up by the things which the movie must signal to us are Important (lest we miss them) via musical cues and circular pans. Moments of political courage, for instance. Especially regarding the First Amendment. Arguments with the family. Epiphanies. Stupidities. One-ups. Sometimes, unfortunately, even jokes.
The movie tells the story of Dalton Trumbo, which is both interesting and historically important, especially if that name means nothing to you. Trumbo wrote Roman Holiday and The Brave One and won Oscars for both—later, he wrote Spartacus—but he wasn’t listed as a writer on either of those films. That's because he was one of the famous “Hollywood Ten,” mostly screenwriters, who were accused of being Communists and refused to cooperate when brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in 1947. Subsequently, they were cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted. The film tracks with the story as Trumbo and several others are imprisoned, for a time. Even after release, their careers are—well, to put it mildly, they are hampered, and ...1