Tag Archives: light-hearted

FILM REVIEW: Trumbo

I encountered a review of Jay Roach’s Trumbo the other day. It was critical both for being inaccurate and for presenting an overly favourable depiction of a man who was by all accounts notoriously hard to get on with and a bit of a pain in the arse.

I couldn’t possibly comment on this being relatively ignorant of the man and his life’s work, but turning this wholly negative, ‘thumbs-down’ review on its head for a moment, I would argue that Trumbo is in fact an excellent piecefor those very same reasons.

Jay Roach’s biopic, in spite of the relatively heavy nature of the subject matter, takes a fairly light-hearted, almost whimsical approach to the remarkable life of Dalton Trumbo; but lacking in substance and weight, it is not.

Strangely comic and almost cartoonish in his portrayal, Bryan Cranston nails his depiction of the infamous Hollywood screenwriter and political activist. Perhaps it’s Trumbo’s relentless chain-smoking or the flippant nature of his retorts, but there are shades of Groucho Marx about Cranston’s Trumbo, whilst Roach’s direction borrows slightly from latter-day Woody Allen in many respects, adding considerable charm and levity to the story.

That’s not to say that Trumbo by definition is a comedy. It isn’t.

Mid 20th century America was a tough place to hold ‘radical’ political beliefs. With the Cold War hanging over the nation like a bad smell and the trepidation of ‘what may be,’ American minds were rightly or wrongly preoccupied within a climate of fear and anti-Russian, anti-Communist sentiment.

For those like Dalton Trumbo, a man who held the civil rights and welfare of all American citizens as paramount to a well balanced and fair society above anything else, there was a very real sense that the net was widening and indeed closing in on them.

Trumbo, buoyed from signing a lucrative writing contract with Metro Goldwyn Meyer, a deal that would well and truly set him up for life, would soon find his life and career taking a serious downturn. Not just the American authorities was it, hell-bent on pulling the rug from beneath him, but the herd mentality of a media-fed public, lapping up the propoganda of the times, would also adopt the position of ‘defenders of the flag,’ unwittingly undermining their own freedoms by policing both the ‘commies’ and themselves in the process.

Trumbo and his circle of politically like-minded friends and confidants are predictably put through the wringer by the U.S authorities and shunned by those they had assumed were either friends or trustworthy acquaintances, with law after law passed deliberately to demonise them and their kind, ever further.

For the outed Communist Trumbo, a potential spell of incarceration is a very real possibility, but worse still, a blacklisting at the hands of the powers that be in Hollywood, spells potential career disaster.

Dalton Trumbo is however a canny customer, made of sterner stuff. Indeed, time will truly reveal the brilliance of the man and his ingenious methods of biting back at those who see fit to ruin him…

There’s a hell of a lot to like about Trumbo.

Bryan Cranston is terrific in the lead role, and his job is made that much easier being backed up most ably by a tremendous support cast:

Diane Lane is stoic, motherly and wonderfully feminine, portraying Trumbo’s long-suffering wife, Cleo. Michael Stuhlbarg plays the conflicted actor Edward G. Robinson, Louis C.K is Alen Hird, Trumbo’s close friend and fellow screenwriter of similar mind, whilst John Goodman weighs in, quite literally, with his take on the larger-than-life character, Frank King, the owner of a film company specialising in turning around God-awful films in record time, without any bullshit.

A special mention to Helen Mirren too. She portrays Hedda Hopper, a ‘Time’ journalist and critic as loathsome as she is influential, and a woman whose poisonous pen can and does make or break the best of them.

Trumbo, in spite of the at times sobering content and heavily political sub-text, positively jollies along. There’s a good pace to the film and a reassuring sense of quality about both script and direction, akin to a well-directed Spielberg yarn, and above all, the comforting realisation that everything’s in exceptionally good hands here.

There’s always a danger that biopics end up being dry, box-ticking exercises, but in Trumbo, director Jay Roach has got it spot on. He’s succeeded in revealing the life and times of one of America’s finest and most prolific screenwriters, Dalton Trumbo, not just as an interesting historical account, but as a properly engaging cinematic event, and that’s no mean feat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FILM REVIEW: A Walk In The Woods

Whatever happened to Nick Nolte?

The words of a Johnny-come-lately film reviewer if ever there were some.

Bill Bryson, as far as I can tell from my own limited exposure to his books, writes fun, light-hearted content, focusing on the amusing quirks and idiosyncrasies of people and the lands in which they live.
It’s this sense of light-hearted fun that would appear to have been quite successfully harnessed by Director Ken Kwapis, in the big screen adaptation of Bryson’s, A Walk In The Woods.
Bill Bryson (played with a certain air of aloofness by Robert Redford), has reached a point in his life where he senses there’s something missing, and as he seems to be constantly and effortlessly sliding into the role of social leper, decides to stop the ride, get off and do something a little less human contact-oriented instead.
The Appalachian Trail stretches for almost 2,000 miles and statistics suggest that less than 10% of those that attempt to walk it, ever complete it; just the ticket for a man of dubious fitness, in the latter part of middle age and naturally a prospect that deters any of Bryson’s circle of friends from accompanying him on the journey – bar one…
Enter Nick Nolte…
Nolte plays Stephen Katz, an ex-alcoholic, grizzly bear-like mess of a man and an ex ‘friend’ of Bryson’s. He’s been off the radar for some time and although not specifically invited, he’s somehow heard about the trek and insists upon tagging along.
There are no other takers, so Bryson, against his better judgement, agrees to his offer, much to the disapproval of his wife Catherine, (played by Emma Thompson).
With neither man in any fit shape to trek 20 miles, let alone 2,000 miles of unforgiving terrain, you can guess where this is all heading and off they set with much japery and hilarity all set to ensue.
It’s all quite jolly, if a little too often resorting to the predictable. I’d wager that there’s certainly at least some extra content that’s been added for dramatic effect into what is, after all, not exactly edge-of -the -seat cinema.
The true thrust of the film lies though in Bryson and Katz’s frequently comical interactions, both with one another and with the world at large on a journey that gradually leads them to the realisation and acceptance of who they are and what ultimately is important to them.
Does it all stay faithful to the book? This I couldn’t say having not read it, but as an occasionally thought-provoking bit of fun that raises some chuckles and more or less sustains the interest throughout, A Walk In The Woods just about hits the mark.