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Helen Mirren and Bryan Cranston star in director Jay Roach’s ‘Trumbo’

Trumbo is yet another reminder of learning from the past in order to make better decisions in the present, and a film that wraps itself tightly in the history of cinema yet doesn’t hold off on any punches. At many points, it is compelling (mostly thanks to lead actor Bryan Cranston) and other times, it drags. This isn’t because of the script, which is relatively strong, but with the pacing and content, which at times wants to do a lot more than it is capable of and hinders the work being done by the exceptional actors.

Dalton Trumbo (Cranston) was an esteemed screenwriter before being blacklisted and becoming one of the Hollywood 10 for his ties to communism. After a stint in jail, Trumbo returned home to complete discourse and was rejected by everyone. Along the way, he ghost writes Roman Holiday and works on the screenplay for Spartacus as he establishes himself, and other blacklisted writers, as the backbone for the industry that was actively dismissing them.

Trumbo is pretty standard in its execution, feeding us a story of a man sticking to his values no matter the costs while still attempting to bring this story home as something relevant today — and in that respect, it works. It is a story about pointing fingers, and how that can destroy lives, which strikes a modern cord. This was a dark spot in America history and the film never steers away from making this point, if not, padding the blow to some icons along the way.

But at its core, Trumbo is nothing without Cranston, who evokes a man who is at times infuriating to be around, and others passionately inspirational to see. Dalton Trumbo is a tough man and Cranston plays him with an expert mix of fury and compassion. There is clearly a respect and understanding by the actor towards the subject and that comes through in his full transformation into the role that we completely buy him in over the course of two hours.

Cranston IS Dalton Trumbo and that is the highest praise you can make for him. Outside of his work, other players such as Louis C.K., Helen Mirren, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Diane Lane are just a few of the faces that help carry the supporting weight. Goodman is as candid as ever, stealing the show in similar fashion to his bits in Argo a few years back, with the same being said about Stuhlbarg and his earlier film from this year, Steve Jobs.

Trumbo doesn’t come without its faults, but at its core, it is a movie trying to be true to its subject. The script is strong, but the implemented standard visual approach by director Jay Roach doesn’t separate it from other biopics in the same mold. Cranston is good, but he isn’t enough to elevate it past pedestrian.

Maybe it could’ve used some of that Trumbo magic to push it over the top. A least one bathtub session would’ve done it some good.

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