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Trumbo Review - Bryan Cranston's Move On From Breaking Bad Begins Now

[LFF 2015] The dark side of the glitzy Golden Age of Hollywood.

Rating: ˜…˜…˜…˜… "If every scene is brilliant, your movie is going to be monotonous," intones Dalton Trumbo to a high-reaching, self-aggrandising Otto Preminger. He's damn right, and no movie shows it better than Trumbo. Jay Roach's biopic of the screenwriting genius blacklisted for his communist leanings isn't perfect (although it is a damn sight more impressive than what you'd expect from the director of the Austin Powers trilogy). He falls into several of the traps of biopic filmmaking - background information is doled out in movie news reels, the world is full of references singularly to historically important events, images of the real life people play over the end-credits - and yet Trumbo rises above all that as an exciting, engaging, not-quite-brilliant-but-far-from-monotonous movie. The key element that makes Trumbo stand out from other recent films in the genre, which seemed to be just dramatising Wikipedia (see: Selma, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game), is that Roach has used these almost-required tropes to his advantage, turning the public perception of the subject both then and now into the point of the film. He is both presenting a detailed account of the whole blacklisting scandal and the conflicting motivations (talks like a communist, lives like a rich guy) of its subject. Those news reels in particular blend seamlessly with the main action, regardless of whether they're genuine with the real people or authentically recreated with the actors, and are used constantly enough they're elevated above mere exposition dumps - they add period flavour and amp up the might working against Dalton. Now that's how to go against convention.
One of the unexpected delights doing this story in such a way is playing "spot the star". As you'd expect of the hot topic issue, a seemingly endless parade of Hollywood icons are waiting in the wings to leave their imprint on Trumbo. It's a fun tour of the Golden Age, and seeing who's playing each part is particularly exciting, as are the "are these really jokes" moments, like Alan Tudyk bringing up memories of Firefly when his Ian McLellan Hunter shows scepticism with joining the Alliance (the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, not an evil space government). But, of course, you're not going in for jokes about how John Wayne was more charismatic off screen than on or to learn the tricky position Edward G. Robinson found himself in. You're here for Bryan Cranston. The man who made Walter White has had a rather muted screen presence since he hung up the black hat in 2013, with only an unexpectedly small (if well-delivered) role in Godzilla. Here we get a proper taste of what post-Heisenberg is. And I like it. Typical Cranston-isms (elements of Walt that peppered his other TV work) are absent and instead Dalton is a man uniquely formed. The rest of the cast are great, few falling into imitation of their real-life characters, but he is brilliant in every scene. And for that you can forgive any of Roach's missteps - like Preminger he's only keeping it from being monotonous. Seen as part of the London Film Festival 2015.
Trumbo is in US cinemas on 6th November 2015 and UK cinemas 5th February 2016.
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Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.