Think of this as the flip side of “The Intern.” That movie was a fictional comedy; this one’s a fact-based drama. But both are the stories of a man with experience — who wanted to keep doing his job. Both have high production values, a good cast and a strong male actor in the lead role. And both may be more enjoyable for “older audiences” because of the story they tell. As a writer, James Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) failed early and often. While attending the University of Southern California, he wrote six novels and eighty-eight short stories – all of which were rejected for publication. But in 1937, he began writing movies — and three years later, his script for “Kitty Foyle” was nominated for an Academy Award. His talent soon made him one of the highest-paid screenwriters in Hollywood, but his membership in the Communist Party made him a target. His refusal to testify against himself and others earned him nearly a year in prison and a decade being “blacklisted” from working in Hollywood for the major studios.
The government could keep his name from being used, but they couldn’t keep him writing. He wrote – for whatever it paid – because it was the only thing he knew how to do. Cranston and director Jay Roach tell the story of those “writing years” with sensitivity, style, and smirky smartness. This is Cranston’s movie and he fully inhabits it — and the man whose story he’s telling. With his raspy voice and bushy mustache, his dark glasses and fearless directness, he makes Trumbo an often irascible and sometimes infuriating, but always principled curmudgeon. At times, the language turns unnecessarily raw; the dialog becomes stagey and stilted; the sheer amount of smoking threatens to make cigarettes a character in the movie. And less focus on the typing and scissoring process – and more on the creative process – would have added depth to the movie. Still, this is a well-told and entertaining story of a man whose name should be more widely known by those who love classic movies. His name is “Trumbo.”