Trumbo (2015 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byJay Roach
Written byJohn McNamara
Based onDalton Trumbo
by Bruce Cook
Produced by
CinematographyJim Denault
Edited byAlan Baumgarten
Music byTheodore Shapiro
  • ShivHans Pictures
  • Everyman Pictures
  • Groundswell Productions
Distributed by
Release dates
  • September 12, 2015 (2015-09-12) (TIFF)
  • November 6, 2015 (2015-11-06) (United States)
Running time
124 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$10 million[3]
Box office$13.3 million[4]

Trumbo is a 2015 American biographical drama film directed by Jay Roach and written by John McNamara. The film stars Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson, Dean O'Gorman as Kirk Douglas, and David James Elliott as John Wayne. The film follows the life of Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, and is based on the 1977 biography Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Alexander Cook.[5]

The film was shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2015,[6] and was released on November 6, 2015, by Bleecker Street. The film received generally positive reviews, with Bryan Cranston being nominated for several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actor.[7][8]


Dalton Trumbo is a screenwriter whose talent places him among the elite of Hollywood. However, his active membership in the Communist Party of the USA draws the contempt of staunchly anti-Soviet entertainment-industry figures such as columnist Hedda Hopper and actor John Wayne.

Trumbo is one of 10 screenwriters subpoenaed to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) regarding Communist propaganda in Hollywood films. They refuse to directly answer questions, confident that a liberal majority on the Supreme Court will overturn their convictions for contempt of Congress. Trumbo's friend Edward G. Robinson, who supports the cause, sells Vincent van Gogh's 1887 painting Portrait of Père Tanguy to raise money for their legal defense fund. The unexpected deaths of Justices Wiley Rutledge and Frank Murphy ruin Trumbo's plan to appeal. In 1950, Trumbo serves 11 months in Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland, Kentucky.

As the Hollywood Blacklist expands to exclude more communists and communist sympathizers from working in the industry, Trumbo and his comrades are abandoned by Robinson and producer Buddy Ross, who disavow them to protect their careers. Trumbo is released from prison, but he remains blacklisted and his finances – and family life – become increasingly strained. He resorts to giving the screenplay for Roman Holiday to his friend Ian McLellan Hunter, to take credit and a share of the money, and eventually the Academy Award for Best Story. Selling his idyllic lakeside home and moving to a house in the city, he goes to work as a pseudonymous screenwriter for the low-budget King Brothers Productions, also farming out the writing of B-movie screenplays to fellow blacklisted writers. He puts his wife Cleo and teenage children to work as his support staff, adding to domestic conflict. King Brothers' film The Brave One, an original story by Trumbo under a pseudonym, receives an Academy Award he cannot claim. His blacklisted friend Arlen Hird dies from cancer, destitute, but an attempt by Hedda Hopper's allies to intimidate the head of King Brothers into firing Trumbo fails completely.

Industry suspicion of Trumbo's ghostwriting develops, but he is careful not to confirm it. In 1960, actor Kirk Douglas recruits him to write the screenplay for his epic film Spartacus, and director Otto Preminger recruits him to script Exodus. Both men publicly credit him as the screenwriter, despite Hopper's futile efforts to intimidate Douglas into dropping Trumbo. By early 1961, the effectiveness of the Blacklist had been broken to the point where newly elected US President John F. Kennedy publicly endorsed Spartacus, and Trumbo and others are able to begin rebuilding their careers. Ten years later, finally receiving his due accolades from Hollywood, Trumbo speaks about how the Blacklist victimized them all: those who stood by their principles and lost their jobs, and also those who compromised their principles to keep them.



On September 18, 2013, Bryan Cranston joined the cast to play Dalton Trumbo.[10] On April 14, 2014, Helen Mirren joined the cast to play Hedda Hopper.[11] On August 7, 2014, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, John Goodman, and Michael Stuhlbarg joined the cast.[12] On August 13, 2014, David James Elliott, Peter Mackenzie, and Roger Bart joined the cast to play John Wayne, Robert Kenny, and Buddy Ross, respectively.[13][14] On September 6, 2014, Louis C.K. joined the cast to play Arlen Hird.[15] On September 22, 2014, Dean O'Gorman joined the cast to play Kirk Douglas.[16] On October 16, 2014, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje joined the cast to play Virgil Brooks.[17] Principal photography began on September 15, 2014, and ended on November 6, 2014.[18][19]


On August 13, 2014, it was announced that Bleecker Street would distribute the film.[20] The film had its world premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2015.[2] The film had a limited release on November 6, 2015 before going wide on November 25.[21]

Trumbo grossed $7.9 million in the United States and Canada and $5.4 million in other countries, for a worldwide total of $13.3 million.[4]


On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 74% based on 205 reviews, with an average rating of 6.70/10. The site's critical consensus states, "Trumbo serves as an honorable and well-acted tribute to a brilliant writer's principled stand, even if it doesn't quite achieve the greatness of its subject's own classic screenplays."[22] Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 60 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[23]

Peter Debruge of Variety gave the film a positive review, saying, "Trumbo may be clumsy and overly simplistic at times, but it's still an important reminder of how democracy can fail (that is, when a fervent majority turns on those with different and potentially threatening values), and the strength of character it takes to fight the system."[24] Lou Lumenick of the New York Post gave the film three and a half stars out of four, saying "It's a cracking good story, and Cranston does a great job portraying a man who made great sacrifices for his principles."[7] Manohla Dargis of The New York Times gave the film a negative review, saying "Part biopic, part historical gloss, Trumbo tells a great-man story with a patchwork of fact and fiction, mixing in the odd bit of newsreel with a great many dull, visually flat and poorly lighted dramatic scenes."[25] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film three out of four stars, saying "Trumbo is breezy and pithy without ever undercutting the seriousness of the subject. A certain degree of wit is appropriate in a writer's story, just as any Hollywood tale must at least have a whiff of absurdity, or else it can't be true."[26] Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four stars, saying "Trumbo is a corny, well-made B-movie about an A-list screenwriter who had to take jobs writing B-movies after he was blacklisted, but eventually worked his way back to writing A-movies with Kirk Douglas a.k.a. Spartacus as his champion."[27]

Jordan Mintzer of The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a positive review, saying "What makes the movie work are the lively performances, both from the supporting cast and from Cranston, who sheds the mimicry and pontificating of earlier scenes to turn Trumbo into a wry, self-deprecating and somewhat cheeky older man, even if he continued to stand up for what was right."[2] Ty Burr of The Boston Globe gave the film three out of four stars, saying "Cranston's performance is the motor that runs Trumbo, and that motor never idles, never flags in momentum or magnetism or idealistic scorn."[28] Alonso Duralde of TheWrap gave the film a positive review, saying "Roach and McNamara fall victim to the occasional phony biopic moment or straight-up moment of didacticism, but overall Trumbo is a lively history about the day-in-day-out drudgery of survival during oppressive times. Screenwriters are so rarely taken seriously by the film industry that it's a nice switch to watch them be the heroes."[29] Bill Goodykoontz of The Arizona Republic gave the film three and a half stars out of four, saying "Roach's film may be light in places, even sugarcoated in others, but any reminder of the past and its impact on the future is a welcome one. Plus, we get a good Cranston performance in the bargain."[30]

Despite generally positive reviews, several reviewers criticized the film for being historically misleading or ideologically manipulative. Godfrey Cheshire of the Roger Ebert Journal wrote that Trumbo is "another of those simplistic, made-to-order films about the Hollywood blacklist in which the blacklisted movie folks are all innocent, in every conceivable way."[31] Cheshire decried the film's insinuation that the House Committee on Un-American Activities created the Hollywood blacklist and that "Sen. Joseph McCarthy had something to do with Congress' pursuit of Hollywood."[31] Cheshire also criticized the film for mainstreaming communism: "it invites us to see the Communist Party USA as just another political party rather than as the domestic instrument of a hostile and ultra-murderous foreign tyranny."[31]

Other critics raised similar historical concerns. While the film portrays Trumbo as "a New Deal liberal hero defending civil liberties", Ron Capshaw in The American Spectator stated the real Trumbo was an outspoken supporter of Soviet-style communism, including Joseph Stalin and North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung.[32] The conservative Pat Buchanan questioned the appropriateness of portraying Trumbo as a "martyr to the first amendment" while overlooking his support for regimes that actively suppress free speech.[33] Armond White of National Review went a step further, accusing director Jay Roach of "unrestrained partisanship" for whitewashing the history of communism to invent a hero that supports Roach's political views.[34]


Bryan Cranston received numerous award nominations for his portrayal of Trumbo, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Award Date of Ceremony Category Recipient Outcome
Academy Awards February 28, 2016 Best Actor Bryan Cranston Nominated
British Academy Film Awards[35] February 14, 2016 Best Actor in a Leading Role Bryan Cranston Nominated
Costume Designers Guild Awards[36] February 23, 2016 Excellence in Period Film Daniel Orlandi Nominated
Critics' Choice Awards[37] January 17, 2016 Best Actor Bryan Cranston Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Helen Mirren Nominated
Best Acting Ensemble Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Louis C.K., Bryan Cranston, David James Elliott, Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[38] January 10, 2016 Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Bryan Cranston Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Helen Mirren Nominated
Houston Film Critics Society[39] January 9, 2016 Best Actor Bryan Cranston Nominated
Palm Springs International Film Festival[40] January 2, 2016 Spotlight Award – Actor Bryan Cranston Won
San Diego Film Critics Society[41] December 14, 2015 Best Actor Bryan Cranston Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Helen Mirren Nominated
San Francisco Film Critics Circle[42] December 12, 2015 Best Actor Bryan Cranston Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Helen Mirren Nominated
Saturn Awards[43] June 22, 2016 Best Independent Film Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards[44] January 30, 2016 Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Bryan Cranston Nominated
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role Helen Mirren Nominated
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Louis C.K., Bryan Cranston, David James Elliott, Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards[45][46] February 13, 2016 Best Adapted Screenplay John McNamara Nominated
Paul Selvin Award Won

Alleged Robinson inaccuracy[edit]

The film depicts actor Edward G. Robinson betraying his friend Dalton Trumbo and others by naming them as communists before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Robinson testified four times before the committee and eventually stated that he had been a dupe of communist front organizations.[47] According to the transcript of a hearing on April 30, 1952, Robinson gave the following testimony: "Well, you had Albert Maltz, and you have Dalton Trumbo, and you have—what is the other fellow, the top fellow who they say is the commissar out there?", and after being prompted by his questioner (Mr. Walter), Robinson continued: "Yes, John Howard Lawson. I knew Frank Tuttle. I didn't know Dmytryk at all. There are the Buchmans, that I know, Sidney Buchman and all that sort of thing. It never entered my mind that any of these people were Communists."[48] His testimony is re-enacted in the film, but with alterations, including to some of the names and their order. For instance, instead of John Howard Lawson, the composite character, Arlen Hird, is identified as "the commissar".[49]


  1. ^ "Arlen Hird" is a composite character based on Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, and Samuel Ornitz.[9]
  2. ^ "Buddy Ross" is a composite character based on Dore Schary and Walter Wanger.[9]
  1. ^ Hunter, Allan (13 September 2015). "'Trumbo': Review". Screen International. Retrieved 4 October 2021.
  2. ^ a b c Mintzer, Jordan (September 12, 2015). "'Trumbo': TIFF Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  3. ^ Baum, Gary (September 2, 2015). "Bryan Cranston Goes From Drug Lord to Communist in Blacklist Saga 'Trumbo': "A Socialist, But He Loved Being Rich"". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Trumbo (2015)". The Numbers. Retrieved November 21, 2018.
  5. ^ Child, Ben (September 19, 2013). "Bryan Cranston to play blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo". The Guardian. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  6. ^ Kay, Jeremy (July 28, 2015). "Toronto to open with 'Demolition'; world premieres for 'Trumbo', 'The Program'". Screen Daily. Retrieved July 28, 2015.
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  8. ^ "Trumbo reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
  9. ^ a b Rapold, Nicolas (November 4, 2015). "'Trumbo' Recalls the Hunters and the Hunted of Hollywood". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  10. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (September 18, 2013). "'Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston Will Next Play Blacklisted Scribe Dalton Trumbo". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
  11. ^ Kroll, Justin (April 14, 2014). "Helen Mirren Eyes Biopic 'Trumbo' With Bryan Cranston (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
  12. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (August 7, 2014). "Diane Lane, Elle Fanning join Trumbo". Screen Daily. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
  13. ^ Kit, Borys (August 13, 2014). "'JAG' Star David James Elliott to Play John Wayne in Bryan Cranston's 'Trumbo' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
  14. ^ "David James Elliott and Peter Mackenzie Head to Hollywood for "Trumbo"". The Tracking Board. August 13, 2014. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
  15. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (September 6, 2014). "Louis C.K. joins Trumbo". Screen Daily. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
  16. ^ Kit, Borys (September 22, 2014). "'Hobbit' Actor to Play Kirk Douglas in Bryan Cranston's 'Trumbo' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
  17. ^ Ford, Rebecca (October 16, 2014). "'Thor: The Dark World' Actor Joins Jay Roach's 'Trumbo' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
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  22. ^ "Trumbo (2015)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved March 8, 2020.
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  24. ^ Debruge, Peter (September 13, 2015). "'Trumbo' Review: Bryan Cranston Clears Blacklisted Writer's Name". Variety. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
  25. ^ Dargis, Manohla (November 6, 2015). "Review: Bryan Cranston in 'Trumbo,' as a Screenwriter in a Hollywood Under Siege". The New York Times. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
  26. ^ LaSalle, Mick (November 12, 2015). "'Trumbo' a witty film about a tortured period". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
  27. ^ Roeper, Richard (November 12, 2015). "'Trumbo': Bryan Cranston acts in broad strokes as writer in the blacklist jungle". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
  28. ^ Burr, Ty (November 19, 2015). "Bryan Cranston puts the swagger in 'Trumbo'". The Boston Globe. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
  29. ^ Duralde, Alonso (November 5, 2015). "'Trumbo' Review: Bryan Cranston Blasts the Blacklist in a Rousing Hollywood History". TheWrap. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
  30. ^ Goodykoontz, Bill (November 12, 2015). "Review: 'Trumbo' a breezy look at important history". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
  31. ^ a b c Cheshire, Godfrey (November 6, 2015). "Trumbo". Roger Ebert Journal. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
  32. ^ Capshaw, Ron (November 30, 2015). "Film the Legend". Library of Law and Liberty. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
  33. ^ Buchanan, Patrick (November 6, 2015). "Dalton Trumbo Had It Coming". RealClearPolitics. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
  34. ^ White, Armond (November 13, 2015). "Trumbo in Hollywood and privilege in Manhattan". National Review. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
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  38. ^ Lang, Brent (December 10, 2015). "'Carol,' Netflix Lead Golden Globes Nomination". Variety. Retrieved December 10, 2015.
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  41. ^ "2015 San Diego Film Critics Society's Award Nominations". San Diego Film Critics Society. December 11, 2015. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  42. ^ "2015 Nominees". San Francisco Film Critics Circle. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  43. ^ "The 42nd Annual Saturn Awards nominations are announced for 2016!". Saturn Awards. February 24, 2016. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  44. ^ "Key Deadlines and Dates for 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards® Announced". SAG-AFTRA. February 25, 2015. Archived from the original on August 17, 2017. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  45. ^ Lewis, Hilary (January 6, 2016). "'Trainwreck,' 'Steve Jobs' Among WGA Screenplay Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  46. ^ "The Paul Selvin Award". Writers Guild Awards. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  47. ^ Ross, Steven J. Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics, Oxford University Press, 2011
  48. ^ Testimony of Edward G. Robinson before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, April, 1952. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1952, p. 2421.
  49. ^ Trumbo, Apple iTunes M4V video file, beginning at minute 46:20.

External links[edit]