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Trumbo ***
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

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Brian Dennehy pays tribute to one of Hollywood's most famously blacklisted writers in Trumbo.

TRUMBO

Starring: Dalton Trumbo, Joan Allen, Brian Dennehy, Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas, Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman.
Rated PG-13.

A mix of archived footage and exuberant readings of the man’s writings, which remain the most compelling testament to his incisive wit, Peter Askin’s documentary recounts the trials of the late Dalton Trumbo.

One of Hollywood’s famously blacklisted – and, by all accounts, most cantankerous – screenwriters, Trumbo was perhaps the most vociferous critic of an American government complicit in ruining the lives of suspected Communists based on the reckless charges of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and others. Here, Trumbo’s son Christopher joins a host of A-list celebrities (among them, Kirk Douglas, who starred in the Trumbo-written 1960 epic Spartacus) in paying tribute to the man’s courage during the Red Scare of the ‘50s, when many in the movie business were too intimidated to stand with their accused colleagues.

Not that he was entirely unsympathetic to those, unlike Trumbo, who agreed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Ever the contrarian, he counted them as fellow victims of an irresponsible witch-hunt, though his admonition to be wary of the men who profited from those proceedings is a not-so-subtle indictment.

During his time in exile from Hollywood, Trumbo wrote screenplays under a variety of pseudonyms (including Robert Rich, the name he used as author of the 1956 Oscar-winner The Brave One), and at one point spent a year living in Mexico with a group of hard-drinking fellow blacklistees. Redemption would come after his name was allowed to appear in the credits for Spartacus and Otto Preminger’s Exodus, but his faith in the land of the free was forever shaken.

As the story of a fierce, beleaguered individualist, Trumbo is stirring and informative, though perhaps not as thorough as it could be. Lost in the urge to lionize the man is the opportunity to provide a more historically comprehensive examination of the era, though the hysteria’s effect on the Hollywood Ten – the group of writers and directors found in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify – is poignantly documented. Ultimately, Trumbo is a loving tribute told from a uniformly reverent perspective, but at least the man himself, shown in grainy home movies and newsreels, seems worthy of the effort.

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