In Peter Askin's eponymous paean to Trumbo (based on son Christopher Trumbo's play, which starred Nathan Lane), Trumbo's prickly letters, mined from the 1940s to the 1960s (extracted from the published collection Additional Dialogue), are read by a legion of actors including Lane, Donald Sutherland, Michael Douglas, Josh Lucas, Liam Neeson, Brian Dennehy, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, and Paul Giamatti. Interspersed with the recitations are recollections from Trumbo's family, Christopher and daughter Mitzi, and supporters like Kirk Douglas, along with blurry film clips and extracts of interviews with Trumbo himself.
Trumbo is anything if not sincere and well meaning. Unfortunately, every one in front of and behind the camera in film knows it. You can cut the earnestness in the film with a knife. The actors recite from Trumbo's letters like reading passages from the Bible. Askin even pumps up the actorly profundities by shooting the actors straight on, the reciters gazing fervently into the lens as if in a Cialis commercial. But then Askin, choosing not to hold on to that straight on shot, cuts away to a side view of the recitations, creating the impression that even the camera itself is uninterested and has to look away. Too bad, because it further diffuses an already unimaginative technique, rendering a film that should have been impassioned and full of life and humor into something static and dull.
Trumbo himself was anything but static and dull and his appearances in the film are the only electric moments and infuses this corpse with life. Trumbo is urgent and eloquent and could just as well be speaking of today when he remarks that "freedom of speech becomes a luxury for which few fight at the most" and even agreeing with the U.S. Congress that cited him for contempt, "It was a just verdict because I had contempt for that congress and several others since." And at some moments the prose of his letters vaults through the hallowed genuflections and grabs you by the throat with twisted dagger phrases like "Get ready to become nobody" and "Say hello to my friends and piss on my enemies."
To be sure, there are a few recitations that do not fall to the ground like dead moths. Paul Giamatti reads a hilarious letter mounted by Trumbo against a hapless telephone company employee trying to collect the phone bill from a broke Trumbo. Best of all, Nathan Lane, with perfect comic archness, reads a letter written to his son expounding on the joys of Albert Ellis and masturbation.
It's just a shame that the most effective moment in a film that should have left people thinking about the meaning of freedom in contemporary times ends up being a gloriously written paean to self-abuse.
I hope he washed his hands.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Friday 27th June 2008
Box Office USA: $28.1k
Distributed by: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Fresh: 45 Rotten: 10
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Peter Askin
Producer: Will Battersby, Tory Tunnel, Alan Klingenstein, David Viola
Screenwriter: Christopher Trumbo
Starring: Dalton Trumbo as Himself, Joan Allen as Herself, Emanuel Azenberg as Himself, Michael Douglas as Himself, Liam Neeson as Himself, Paul Giamatti as Himself, Josh Lucas as Himself, Nathan Lane as Himself, Brian Dennehy as Himself
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