Award season must be around the corner, because movies like Trumbo come out only when they can be considered. This kind of movie tends to be set in some yesteryear and plays jazz, smokes heavily, and wears a long silk dress as it approaches. These movies are shameless award bait, and Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents) has decided that it is his time to get some hardware via the Hollywood blacklist, one of the more controversial periods in Tinseltown's shady past.
Not to suggest that Roach doesn't do a quality job here—as biopics go, this representation of Dalton Trumbo, a golden age screenwriter, is up there with the best. But the story asks very little of its director, as the real intrigue, as Roach and John McNamara (the film's writer) and the entire cast understand, is the man himself. It's almost too easy to turn the Dalton Trumbo story into award fodder; after all, it is a movie about a man who couldn't stop getting them.
For the record, Trumbo was opinionated, well-read, intelligent, hardworking, prolific, and an unabashed communist. He was blacklisted from the motion pictures, and as part of the Hollywood Ten, he didn't see work for quite some time. The conflict, which in some ways is finding a job and in some ways fighting for what's right, takes a backseat through the movie, and what is emphasized are those many fine performances that poke the nostalgia bone. Hats off to Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, John Goodman (who is perfect as a pulp movie producer), and David James Elliott (as John Wayne).
If you're looking for a jump-start on the award season, this is an excellent access point. While lacking in style, Trumbo is a fine ode to a man who fought for what he believed in and who was passionate about what he did. And as for movies about Hollywood's past, well, I'll see you again next year.