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With: Joan Allen, Brian Dennehy, Michael Douglas, Paul Giamatti, Nathan Lane, Josh Lucas, Liam Neeson, David Strathairn, Donald Sutherland, Emanuel Azenberg, Walter Bernstein, Larry Ceplair, Kirk Douglas, Peter Hanson, Dustin Hoffman, Lew Irwin, Kate Lardner, Helen Manfull, Victor Navasky, Jean Rouverol, Christopher Trumbo, Mitzi Trumbo
Written by: Christopher Trumbo, based on his play
Directed by: Peter Askin
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a sex-related commentary
Running Time: 96
Date: 09/10/2007

Trumbo (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Brave One

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Peter Askin adapts Christopher Trumbo's play Trumbo to the big screen, but the result is more of a standard documentary than the play's celebration of language and acting. The film includes powerful sequences of Joan Allen, Brian Dennehy, Michael Douglas, Paul Giamatti, Nathan Lane, Josh Lucas, Liam Neeson, David Strathairn and Donald Sutherland reading various letters, poems and other lively scribblings from the late scribe. (Some of these actors performed in the live show.) Askin seems to be flailing in desperation to find something cinematic to add to Trumbo's words. Set against black backgrounds with soft, dramatic music, Askin's dramatic camera angles are somewhat awkward, but the superb performances and the words eventually win out.

The documentary segments cover arguably the most shameful chapter of 20th century American history, employing the usual talking heads, clips and photos. But none of Askin's dry reporting can match the power of a letter from Trumbo to the school board about his daughter's horrible treatment at the hands of her classmates. I needed no more convincing about the evil of the blacklist, but Trumbo's words give more insight to its emotional side, and the sheer pain it caused. The film also uses clips to demonstrate just how the themes of betrayal and mob mentality dominated his later work, such as Spartacus (1960) and Papillon (1973).

Oddly, despite his obvious talent, many of Trumbo's movies -- around 60 of them, most written without credit and under pseudonyms -- have not stood the test of time. It would have been interesting to see what he could have done given a normal career free of political turmoil. Some of his most notable movies are: Kitty Foyle (1940), I Married a Witch (1942), A Guy Named Joe (1943), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), Gun Crazy (1949), The Prowler (1951), Roman Holiday (1953), The Brave One (1956), Terror in a Texas Town (1958), Spartacus, Exodus (1960), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), The Sandpiper (1965), Papillon and his own directorial debut, an adaptation of his novel Johnny Got His Gun (1971).

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