Trumbo - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Trumbo Reviews

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August 16, 2010
Instead of viewing more of today's mass-pulp cinema, filled with fictional cardboard-heroes fighting against-all-odds, click into this, the TRUE story of one man who actually DID stand on righteous principle, against a system in-the-wrong, regardless of the personal and professional price that it would eventually extort.

Trumbo, as one of ten Hollywood writers facing the witch-hunt that was McCarthyism, informs the Un-American Activities Congressional panel that, constitutionally speaking, it has no legal right to deny or probe an American citizen's political beliefs, that being the very tyranny from which the First Amendment aims to protect. The price for so informing them, of course, was a Hollywood blacklisting.

This is a surprisingly impressive and moving telling of Trumbo's story. Collated into the archival footage telling the timeline of events are nine A-list actors honoring the man by reciting repeatedly from his personal papers. These monologues make incredibly plain the extraordinarily gifted writing, personal integrity and innermost thoughts of the man as he persevered through being ostracized, blacklisted and imprisoned - and eventually schemed his own redemption.

Also interwoven are scenes from films authored by Trumbo that the viewer here learns are not just high-minded eloquent scriptwork but rather a reflection of Trumbo's personal values, beliefs and actions (eg, the refusals to betray as told in "Spartacus" & "Papillon").

An extension of 1993 stagecraft. All rights to this film were purchased by (the now defunct) Red Envelope Entertainment branch of Netflix.

RECOMMENDATION: Highly worthy intellectual viewing.
Super Reviewer
August 13, 2010
In the beginning, there was the word and in the end, there was only the word, which in the case of the documentary
"Trumbo" are the letters and screenplays penned by famed writer Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood 10, held in contempt of Congress(Not to be confused with contempt for Congress) for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee(HUAC) and jailed for a year.(Ring Lardner Jr. said he would have hated himself in the morning if he had.) After being blacklisted for ten years as a result and struggling to find any work, Trumbo's first onscreen credit was for "Exodus," due to Otto Preminger and his enormous brass balls.(Even with his liberal credentials, Preminger was never called before HUAC because as bullies, they were deathly afraid of him. It would have been funny if he had been, though.) Unlike I had originally presumed, this was only the first of many bricks in the blacklist to be taken down.

That's not the only misconception that "Trumbo" seeks to correct, although it confuses HUAC with Senator Joe McCarthy. They were two separate entities, amongst the many red baiters out to ruin people in the 1950's. In front of the committee, the writers pled the first, not the fifth amendment, because they felt had done nothing wrong by freely associating with the Communist Party which was the only political organization active in political change at the time. The documentary seeks to illustrate Trumbo's role in these events by interviews(some with him before he died in 1976), archival footage, film clips and actors reading Trumbo's letters which is a mixed success at best. This takes the movie out of the realm of being a documentary and into a performance piece(Actually, this was adapted from a play). The best are Nathan Lane reading the only positive letter ever written from father to son on the subject of masturbation and Paul Giamatti reading a letter to the phone company. All of which provides a complete portrait of the writer as a cantankerous soul(nice people generally do not usually make good fighters). But for the best insight on the blacklist, check out "The Front."
August 2, 2010
The readings of Trumbo's letters by Douglas, Neesom and others were the making of this documentary for me. Not to say that his black listing and life story, against the backdrop of Americas paranoia after the second world war is not engaging or interesting, it is, but his writing is brilliant and when read by someone like Donald Sutherland it becomes astounding.
July 3, 2010
If one ever wanted to make a case against the inherent banality of assigning "5 stars" or "10 tomatoes" in the business of film review, then a film such as Trumbo would give one fodder for argument.

Despite enlisting several Hollywood stars to read the letters of the man in a compelling way, this cannot be said to offer entertainment.

To be taken as a documentary, one must criticize a lack of background depth to the climate that created a politicized blacklist and an almost complete occlusion of the political philosophy expressed by those blacklisted that caused them to be vilified in the first place.

"McCarthyism" is properly used as a pejorative term to refer to the era when a Senator and his cronies sacrificed people's lives in order to aggrandize themselves optically before the public and provides a dire warning of the misuse of power in a democratic capitalist system. I think it is important for people today to pay heed to these past days and be very watchful of their "leaders" at all times, because we have seen countless examples in history of the notion that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". As an individual your entire life can be ruined by government out to scare the public into rallying to their cause, accepting the erosion of rights in the name of "safety", and pointing one out as an example to be ostracized by the community at large.

In days of Patriot Acts and other attacks on civil freedoms to stop "the terrorists", the parallels can be easily drawn.

Having said all that, it comes down to the scoring system as always, and this gets my "watch once and enjoy" 6er because of the lacks as a documentary piece, despite the vital importance of the material in general.
July 3, 2010
As far as documentaries go this one was pretty good. Director Dalton Trumbo, as it turns out, was a really cool guy. He was blacklisted for who knows what when everyone was naming names for being communist. He was in jail for a while and then moved to Mexico with his family and published scripts under a whole bunch of different alternate names. If you don't know anything about this time period and its affect on the film industry, you'll definitely get a history lesson here!
The way director Peter Askin presents the information is pretty cool as well. He uses Trumbo's family members for interviews and actors who had some relation to him for readings of letters he wrote. You get an interesting sense of who and how he was when things that he wrote are read by someone who 1. knew him well enough to know how it should sound and 2. can actually act!
I don't know that it was interesting enough to watch again, but definitely worth seeing once.
June 12, 2010
insightful & well done doc
½ June 4, 2010
(*** 1/2): Thumbs Up

Very interesting and funny.
April 7, 2010
hmmm, nicole kidman--done
½ November 10, 2009
The tone of the film may be a bit too celebratory, but Trumbo's utter dedication to standing up and fighting for justice and freedom is commendable. The spoken word recitations of Trumbo's letters are easily the most moving and memorable segments of the film.
October 27, 2009
Great cast. Revealing picture during a challenging era of America's past. Some most excellent quotes can be found within.
October 25, 2009
What an extraordinary man with tremendous integrity and an amazing writer to boot. I loved the structure of the various actors reading his letters. This documentary is also a good reminder of how hysteria can ruin peoples lives.
October 23, 2009
fascinating. true american hero.
½ October 7, 2009
Enjoyable doc/performance piece.
½ October 6, 2009
A very good examination into the life of one of the infamous 'Hollywood Ten'....a true victim of one of the darkest times in American history. For anyone interested in seeing the disastrous, shameful events of HUAC and all that it inflicted, I would recommend this film. Trumbo was an eccentric, stubborn, courageous, witty and principled man...and a remarkably talented writer - as witnessed in the many terrific films he penned and the extraordinary letters that Peter Askin (director) shares with us here on film. The letters are read with incredible and effortless conviction by Michael Douglas (surprise), David Strathairn (not at all surprised), Donald Sutherland, Liam Neeson, among others. Sutherland stands out, especially his superb reading from one of Trumbo's is awe-inspiring to watch him recite this excerpt. The McCarthy witch-hunt - and all it stood for - was an utter disgrace that people need to be reminded of, or, if some of the younger generations are not familiar with, need to learn about what happened. This film is a small and effective reminder.
October 4, 2009
I'm currently reading a text book on film that is representing it all through graphs, so apparently there is no magic left in this world that can't be summed up with a bar graph and some quotes. Also Colin Covert from
The Minneapolis Star Tribune, is a fowl excuse for a man of valid opinion.
½ September 19, 2009
A fascinating and undoubtedly talented writer, if you love film there is no way you could watch this and not gain something. A nice mixture of archive footage, film footage and celebrity/actor presence. The only criticism I could muster is that some of the actor monologues felt a bit too 'drama school' for my liking.
Super Reviewer
September 19, 2009
I don't often seek out documentaries myself but this one is well worth the extra effort if you can find it. A compelling narrative about a courageous and extremely intelligent human being.
September 18, 2009
Watched it last night. It's about staying true to your high moral principle, staying happy even when faced with a 100mph headwind, A must-see for left wing liberals and literature buffs.
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