Trumbo ★★★

Part of my Double Feature Challenge

After watching Peter Askin's excellent 2007 documentary Trumbo, I was eager to see how Bruce Alexander Cook's 1977 biography "Dalton Trumbo" was transformed for the big screen by director Jay Roach. Much to my surprise, although I enjoyed the adaptation quite a lot, I found I actually preferred Askin's version to this biopic,

To be fair, Bryan Cranston is excellent in the titular role, well deserving of his Oscar nomination. I liked Hellen Mirren as the Hollywood gossip-monger Hedda Hopper and bat-swinging John Goodman as sleazy B-movie producer Frank King. I was less impressed by Michael Stuhlbarg as a weak, Judas-like version of Edward G. Robinson and David James Elliott as mindless right-winger John Wayne, while Dean O'Gorman was just okay as Kirk Douglas. It's never easy playing icons.

My main disappointment was with how the members of Trumbo's family were portrayed. Elle Fanning delivers daughter Nikola as kind of mousy and Diane Lane as wife Cleo is not nearly as supportive (or beautiful) as the real deal was. Their period of exile in Mexico is completely eliminated here, which could have helped build the family dynamic. But it seems like Roach was more interested in the politics than the personal strife of Trumbo's dilemma.

Perhaps one of the best portrayals of a Hollywood luminary was Christian Berkel's performance as filmmaker Otto Preminger, a totally take-charge guy. Richard Portnow as snake-in-the-grass producer Louis B. Mayer is but a shadow by comparison, and Louis C.K. as cancer-ridden fellow writer Arlen Hird hardly makes a difference.

All that said, it's a pretty good film for those unfamiliar with the blacklisting of "communist" actors, writers and directors in the 1950s. My gripes are mainly in comparison to the 2007 documentary, which still has me enthralled.

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