'Trumbo' is Over-Plotted
Trumbo tries to tell the story of the notorious Hollywood blacklist of communist talent through the story of multi-Oscared screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, and that decision leads to both its glory and its principal weakness. The glory is a remarkably convincing performance by Bryan Cranston of television's "Breaking Bad," and the principal weakness is an overplus of plots for a two-hour movie.
Cranston is brilliant at making relatively ordinary characters into villains or heroes without losing either ordinariness or sympathy. His Trumbo is a man of proper grammar and emotional control, almost a little stuffy, with an inner core of his own principles that is pure spring steel. His version of communism consists mostly of people helping each other in times of trouble, and one should watch Trumbo with an awareness of the period of the stock market crash and the Depression, when capitalism seem to be on its deathbed and the two alternatives for the future seemed to be Russian communism and Hitler's fascism (and until the infamous Moscow purge trials, a lot of people went a little bit red).
During the Cold War, people tended to forget the past, and hundreds of lives were ruined by the second big red scare. Trumbo lost his job, though not entirely his position n the movie industry; almost lost his family; and spent time in prison. Hollywood caved in to political and economic pressure, and demagogues like Joe McCarthy and Hedda Hopper saw their chance and took it.
And here is where the movie loses itself in the smothering load of psychological plot, family plot, show-business plot, political-economic plot, and swarms of actual historical characters inadequately and probably unfairly played, in myriad possibilities that call out for a television miniseries. Trumbo should leave you yearning for more; maybe television will provide it.