A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Trumbo is a biographical drama about screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), who was branded a Communist in the 1950s, served jail time, and was blacklisted. The movie offers a powerful, important history lesson for teens who might not otherwise know about this period. Language is the biggest issue, with several (but by no means constant) uses of "f--k" and "s--t," plus "a--hole" and "p---y." The main character is seen naked, but nothing other than his bottom is shown. There are also some sexual references. Violence isn't really an issue, but there is some arguing and shouting, plus a scene in which a man threatens another with a baseball bat, smashing windows and nearby objects. Expect lots of period-accurate cigarette smoking, and lots of whisky drinking (and pill taking) by the main character.
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What's the story?
In 1947, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is wealthy and respected. And then rumblings about his affiliation with the Communist Party begin to spread through Hollywood. Questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee, Trumbo is arrested, and -- along with nine colleagues -- blacklisted from working. After serving jail time, Trumbo writes Roman Holiday, and his friend Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk) acts as a "front" to help sell it. Trumbo also goes to work for low-budget producer Frank King (John Goodman), while his relationships with his wife (Diane Lane), family, and friends -- including Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) and Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) -- are tested. Then, in 1960, two big movies come along that will change everything.
Is it any good?
This biopic could have fallen into all the usual traps, but Jay Roach directs John McNamara's smart, witty screenplay with a light touch, and the result is both entertaining and educational. Set between the 1940s and the 1960s, TRUMBO could have been a mere collection of highlights, but the filmmakers manage to create a vivid gallery of colorful supporting characters who all contribute equally; in the lead, Cranston is marvelous -- with an endless flow of crystalline dialogue -- but it's not just a one-man show.
Better still, Trumbo deftly tells the story of the Communist witch hunts in a way that acknowledges their complexities and gray areas while still labeling them, on the whole, as an act of pure evil. Roach gets this message across with a minimum of preaching but still strongly enough to ignite passions. Yet the most memorable parts are the movie's many laughs, as Trumbo wryly regards the various situations he finds himself in.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the Communist fears and accusations of the 1950s. Who were the victims? How accurate do you think Trumbo is to what actually happened? Why might filmmakers choose to tweak the facts when making a movie based on a true story?
How does the movie make you feel about Dalton Trumbo? Is he a hero? A role model? Do you want to see more of his movies or read his writing?
How does the movie deal with those who "named names"? How do we feel about them? Why do we feel that way?
- In theaters: November 6, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: February 16, 2016
- Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren
- Director: Jay Roach
- Studio: Bleecker Street
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 124 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language including some sexual references
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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