The best biopics are a combination of two things. First is a story that you vaguely know of; everyone’s heard of Stephen Hawking and Martin Luther King, and if you don’t know about Turing you’ve definitely heard of that thing called World War 2. Second comes the emotional backbone. The given examples use love, or the struggle as one is rejected from society for being the person that they are, both of which hook the viewer past the initial interest from the topic. When it comes to Trumbo it offers very little of either of these two things.
The film depicts the life of Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood until he was blacklisted for his Communist beliefs, and follows him through the years as he struggles to be accepted into “Better Dead than Red” society. While the enticement of the premise may vary to some, when this is stripped away there is very little left to the film. All emotional moments are either downplayed to little effectiveness or emphasised to the point of feeling forced. Strife with family, co-workers, and friends feel little more than squabbles that will in no way affect anything in particular. The whole set up leaves the viewer rather detached and, by the end, the emotional talks of what the characters have been through feels almost cheated.
It’s with the end of the film that you realize the confusion Trumbo had; it didn’t know whether to focus on the movement or the man. The entire film focalises on ‘the Hollywood 10’, the collection of screenwriters that were put out of work by their political stance, and throughout are the only ones mentioned in this condemnation by their own country. Yet in the final moments it’s revealed that it didn’t just affect people in the entertainment industry but in every sector of work, resulting in thousands of people unjustly losing their jobs. The film cuts out an entire backdrop of the central issue of the film in order to maintain the focus on its central character, leaving it on a confusing note.
While competently made and more than competently acted (largely thanks to Cranston), the film fails to stand up with the multitude of biopics released in recent years.
Trumbo (2015), directed by Jay Roach, is distributed in the UK by Entertainment One. Certificate 15.