"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris



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Trumbo : A Review



Years ago, on an extremely hot August day, I was jogging down the street in Brooklyn when I had the great misfortune to step in a supernaturally large pile of dog excrement. I nearly slipped and fell as the excrement acted like a banana peel and knocked me off my stride, but thankfully due to my incredibly athletic and balletically graceful nature I was able to regain my balance. If I hadn't been in such an urban setting I would have assumed the creator of the excrement in question was a grizzly bear or a Sasquatch and not a dog, but due to setting, circumstances and available evidence, I lay the blame upon man's best friend. Upon closer inspection the excrement was fresh, slick and steamy and, as is the case with most excrement, smelled most foul. In order to avoid any further embarrassment or attention from passers-by, I quickly left the scene of the poop-step incident and went to find a less public place to clean my sneaker. I ended up down a side street trying to use the curb to clean out the crevices of my sneaker. As time wore on and the amount of poop on my sneaker shrunk, somehow the smell grew worse, nearly rendering me unconscious. It was at this moment that I realized that this noble sneaker, with it's complicated zig-zag sole which seemed designed to hold poop deep in it's marrow, was going to be a casualty of this brown encounter and would not survive, and his partner, although poop free, would be lost to the ages as well.

I was reminded of this story while watching the film Trumbo.

Trumbo, written by John McNamara and abysmally directed by Jay Roach, is the story of legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo, along with nine other screenwriters, was  blacklisted for being and/or associating with communists during the red scare in the 1940's and 50's. Trumbo was also imprisoned for Contempt of Congress for refusing to give the names of his communist friends to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Dalton Trumbo was a talented, brave and principled man who lived a life worth honoring and remembering. Trumbo the movie is little more than some odorous excrement stuck upon Dalton Trumbo's rather large shoe.

Trumbo is a baffling film, it boasts a plethora of outstanding acting talent, all of which turn in mortifying performances. Bryan Cranston, Hellen Mirren, Diane Lane and Michael Stuhleberg are all truly great actors, but their work in Trumbo has all the depth and commitment of a high school sketch comedy troupe trying on hats at the local haberdashery. What makes this all the more baffling is that the only reason I saw Trumbo was because I got a copy of it sent to me in an effort to get me to vote for it for a Screen Actors Guild award. This is the equivalent of Chris Christie mailing out a workout video in an attempt to garner votes. Rest assured, neither will be getting my vote.

Bad acting is more a symptom rather than the disease afflicting Trumbo. The disease is the insipid and inept direction of Jay Roach. There is not a single scene in Trumbo that has any genuine human connection or interaction in it or any coherent dramatic arc to it…not one. Roach's direction is sloppy, unfocused and frankly an embarrassment. There are some technical gaffes that are jaw dropping as well, which point to unconscionable laziness or outright incompetence.

John McNamara's script is a bloated atrocity, which needed to have about ten more rewrites if not fifteen chainsaws put to it. McNamara has a background in television and it shows in his film script. Dalton Trumbo had such a vast and interesting life that his story would have been much better served if it were a series or miniseries on HBO. But alas it isn't a tv series, it is a film, and a dreadfully shallow and appalling one at that.

In conclusion, Trumbo, like that steamy summer poop from my Brooklyn past, really stinks. Dalton Trumbo the man deserves much more than this god-awful bio-pic tainting his legacy. Dalton Trumbo's story is an important one that teaches all of us vital lessons that are as imperative now as they have ever been, but you'd never know that by watching Trumbo. If you are interested in the life and times of Dalton Trumbo, I recommend you avoid Trumbo at all costs and instead watch the 2007 PBS documentary about the man (below), you'll be much better served.