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