The vast majority of biographical films follow a predictable and often unsatisfying formula: select a figure whose name will be instantly recognizable to every prospective viewer, then play up any and all personal struggles, peculiarities, and family problems of that figure as much as conceivably possible. Examples of this strategy swell to my mind in abundance, from John Lennon’s youth in Nowhere Boy to Alfred Hitchcock’s later middle-age in Hitchcock to Howard Hughes’ entire adult life in The Aviator.
With this in mind, it was nothing short of a breath of fresh air to enjoy the realism in Jay Roach’s Trumbo, which tells the true tale of acclaimed Hollywood writer Dalton Trumbo’s imprisonment and blacklisting for his communist political leanings. By ‘realism’ I do not mean to imply that Trumbo’s historical accuracy is any better than the other films named above (some key details of its depiction of Edward G. Robinson are almost certainly fabrications). Indeed, I had limited knowledge of the Hollywood Ten prior to seeing Trumbo, and even less of Dalton Trumbo himself (despite my previous enjoyment of some of the films he wrote).
Rather, I mean that the characters are not bizarre, lascivious caricatures of the figures involved, but are instead nuanced and lively representations. On the strengths of its actors, its unique restraint in the biopic genre, and the modern resonance of the American paranoia depicted, Trumbo succeeds as a great and thoroughly enjoyable movie.
History Less Exaggerated: