Trumbo is that rare movie that shows a truly great, truly versatile actor at his worst. Bryan Cranston, who plays Dalton Trumbo, the communist screenwriter who was at the center of the HUAC witch hunt of the 1950s, may have been betrayed by a script that caused him to be “on” all the time. Even in the scenes when he and his wife, played wonderfully by Diane Lane, are alone, discussing the problems they have with money or the government pursuing them because of his communism, Cranston seems to need to be the larger than life actor Dalton Trumbo apparently was most of the time. That’s too bad because it draws more attention to itself than it should, and causes for the viewer that worst of Hollywood sins: disengagement from the story.

That is not to say that Trumbo is not a good picture. It is, perhaps especially for those who know nothing of the sad story of betrayal and controversy that the Hollywood Communist scandal of the late 1940’s and 50’s was. Michael Stuhlbarg, as the conflicted but ultimately cowardly Edward G. Robinson, actually outshines Cranston much of the time. And Lane, given a part that is clearly that of the submissive housewife to the “great man”, plays it with the restraint and devotion the part requires and rockets past her husband in the quotient of empathy required of the viewer. Other supporting roles by John Goodman as Frank King and Helen Mirren as the irrepressible Hedda Hopper are underwritten but admirably performed.

But this movie belongs to Cranston, and, I am sorry to say, he doesn’t carry it off.

Drew Trotter

December 1, 2015

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