Review: 'Trumbo'

Documentary about famous screenwriter Dalton Trumbo draws on letters he wrote from Mexico after being blacklisted by the US government.

The dandyish, floridly mustachioed Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood's highest-paid screenwriter ("Kitty Foyle," "A Guy Named Joe," "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo") until he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. Subsequently jailed and blacklisted as a consequence of alleged "subversive activities in the motion picture industry," he moved his family for a time to Mexico and wrote movies under various aliases – including "Robert Rich," the name he used on "The Brave One," which won him an Oscar for best story in 1956. (For many years the statuette went unclaimed.) He also wrote a voluminous number of letters to family, friends, and foes, many of which were collected in the book "Additional Dialogue." These letters form the basis of "Trumbo," a documentary about the writer's life based on the play "Trumbo" by his son Christopher and featuring powerful staged readings of the letters by such performers as Brian Dennehy, Paul Giamatti, Nathan Lane, Liam Neeson, David Strathairn, and Michael Douglas – whose father, Kirk, interviewed in the film, helped break the blacklist in 1960 by insisting that Trumbo be credited as the screenwriter for "Spartacus." (The film doesn't cite the Trumbo-scripted "Lonely Are the Brave," which he subsequently wrote for the actor and which remains one of the finest achievements of both men.) Family home movies and photos and archival clips round out the film, which holds its hero-worshiping to fairly tolerable levels. Grade: B+ (Rated PG-13 for a sex-related commentary.)

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