One of the main reasons I began to read the story of Dalton Trumbo was that it was free on my newly acquired Kindle and after a short spout of research, found that it was about the life of Dalton Trumbo.
Dalton Trumbo was a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter from 1947 to 1960, but continued to write under pseudonyms, scripting Roman Holiday (1953) and The Brave One (1956) with both films winning Oscars for their scripts. Trumbo was not officially credited with the writing both films until 2011 and 1975 respectively.
Adaptation is a well argumented medium when it comes to film and literature. Hardcore fans criticize directors, producers and actors for poor portrayals of characters, setting and performances. Sometimes, they get it right, but others they get it horribly wrong. The adaptation of Trumbo has it’s moments on screen, but a large portion of the story is missing.
Trumbo was written by Bruce Cook and published in January 1977. The biography includes interviews from Trumbo’s family and closest friends, along with interviews from the Hollywood legend himself. The book dives into his childhood, along with his rise and fall scripting movies in Hollywood.
Trumbo (2015) was released by Bleecker Street and starred Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo with support from Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, Diane Lane, and John Goodman. Directed by Jay Roach, the film begins just as Dalton Trumbo battles to clear his name against the Supreme Court with the “Hollywood Ten”.
The main issue with the adaptation for me is the time setting of the film. If Jay Roach and the producers had set the film earlier, the audience would resonate more with the character and the unjust treatment of Dalton Trumbo when the film details the blacklist period.
The book went into detail of his childhood, particularly focusing on his tough upbringing and motivation to succeed in one of the toughest industries in the 1940’s. This is one part of the story that is crucially missing in the film adapation. In the film, Trumbo is perceived as a selfish character, deciding to ignore his children when he is needed as a father. Detailing how Trumbo rose to be one of the most respected screenwriters in Hollywood is vitally important to the story of Dalton Trumbo. The time of his life when Trumbo had to drop out of University to take care of his family after the death of his father speaks volumes of his character. The decision to omit this time in his life fails to give the character of Dalton Trumbo a sense of sacrifice.
If anyone has read the book, they would know that there are a lot of interesting stories in his early years. You have the transition from working shifts at the bakery, to writing in the little spare time that Trumbo had in order to get a slightly better paid job writing for a magazine. During this time, Trumbo was writing what would arguably be his greatest literary achievement, the National Book Award for Most Original Book, Jonny Got His Gun. Written in 1939, Jonny was an anti-war novel about a young American soldier serving in World War I, who awakens in a hospital bed after being caught in the blast of an exploding artillery shell. He gradually realizes that he has lost his arms, legs, and all of his face (including his eyes, ears, teeth, and tongue), but that his mind functions perfectly, leaving him a prisoner in his own body.
This period in Trumbo’s life higlights the work ethic involved in succeeding, while also caring for his family. The period of time would only speak volumes of Trumbo’s character, paving the sympathy the audience would feel for having his success taken away from him in the form of the blacklist, just for his political views.
That’s what the film starring Bryan Cranston ended up being about. A Hollywood man convicted for his political views and not a representation of Dalton Trumbo, one of the most interesting, thought-provoking people to grace the Hollywood film industry. Take nothing away from Bryan Cranston. The experience actor was impressive, and by Bruce Cook’s description, pulled off the performance of Dalton Trumbo perfectly. If there is one thing critics can agree on with this film, it’s Cranston’s performance.
Adaptation is a seriously opinionated process. You have the serious fans of the book that want the film to be truer than it could ever possibly be, and then you have the serious fans of the movie, who argue that it is just that, an adaptation. What is seriously missing for me in this adaptation, is the link between the character’s time periods and how the film perceived a man that came from so much more than seen on screen. I am in total agreement that adaptation can take a series of formations, and the 2015 version of Trumbo is an adaptation from a particualr period in Dalton Trumbo’s life. I just think that what they output was a misrepresentation of his character.