DVD review: Trumbo

Bryan Cranston in Trumbo
Bryan Cranston in Trumbo

This week’s big DVD release is Trumbo, a biopic looking at the life and controversial times of one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters.

The biopic tells the story of Dalton Trumbo, played by Bryan Cranston, and his experiences in the 1940s and 50s when the febrile atmosphere of the cold war had a striking effect on the movie industry. In 1947 Trumbo was a highly prized writer with a string of hits but it isn’t long until his way of life is threatened.

The House of Un-American Activities Committee calls on Trumbo to testify about his communist sympathies but he refuses to engage with them.

It’s a decision which gets him a stretch in prison and a place on a blacklist along with nine others who became known collectively as the Hollywood 10.

Beset by the threat of poverty Trumbo is forced to write anonymously, penning scripts but receiving considerably less money and no recognition for his work.

Eventually Trumbo finds work with a minor production company and, as rumours about his ghost-written scripts persist, he continues to try to break the blacklist.

It’s a dark story about a time in American history when intense paranoia was creating a difficult and dangerous atmosphere. At the heart of it is the character of Dalton Trumbo and Cranston excels in the role, bringing a solid, believable emotional complexity to the writer.

The rest of the cast provide strong support, including Helen Mirren as a spiteful and scurrilous gossip columnist who peddles fear of the supposed communist threat. However, the film is very much Trumbo’s story and it is a fascinating one.

That’s not to say the film is perfect, though. While the story and acting are both good, there’s a certain irony in the fact that, in this film about an incredibly talented screenwriter, it is the script which is stodgy.

Still, that isn’t enough to detract too much from an enjoyable and interesting film which effectively captures a time in which irrational fears cost some people very dearly indeed.