Magnolia Pictures // 2007 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // September 24th, 2009
Hollywood blacklisted him...but he had the last word.
"Say hello to my friends, and piss on my enemies." -- Dalton Trumbo
In 1970, Dalton Trumbo accepted a Laurel award for his work as a screenwriter. His acceptance speech, where he alludes to the blacklist, is read by actor David Straithairn (Good Night, And Good Luck). This is an appropriate beginning for Trumbo, because it not only introduces to the audience who Trumbo was, but it also emphasizes the thesis of the documentary, which is based on a play by Trumbo's son Christopher.
In the 1940s, Trumbo was the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood. This made him a perfect target by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, especially when they saw in his writing possible socialist themes and commentary. Trumbo was selected as part of the Hollywood Ten, but refused to answer the Committee's questions, citing the fact they had no reason to ask them. This led to Trumbo being blacklisted for at least a decade, a reality that dramatically affected his family and career.
Christopher Trumbo and director Peter Askin use interviews of Dalton and the standard newsreel footage to layout the rise and fall of an iconoclast. However, much of the film is also made up of letters, poems, and speeches by Trumbo, which are read by A-list actors like Michael Douglas, Liam Neeson, Joan Allen, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Donald Sutherland. These readings certainly reveal a lot about Trumbo and his invaluable use of the English language. And yet, I think it would have been much more resonant to have the readings performed by modern-day screenwriters. With the actors, we are all too aware they are big actors, and it's mildly distracting.
Trumbo certainly has a lot to say. Unfortunately, it's not terribly compelling. It provides a nice window into Trumbo's life and blueprint for the history of the blacklist, but not much more. Perhaps this material worked better on the stage, I don't know. Nevertheless, this doc is a must-see for film buffs, particularly those who don't know much about its subject.
Magnolia's DVD is respectable. The 1.78:1 anamorphic print gets the job done, with excellent flesh tones and black levels. Much of the footage of Trumbo himself retains itself to its original ratio. As for the audio, 5.1 Surround and 2.0 stereo tracks are available. Spanish subtitles and closed captioning are also offered. Extras are limited to two deleted scenes, which include readings by Giamatti and Danny Glover, and a photo gallery.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Photo Gallery