Film Review: Trumbo

TRUMBO

Director Jay Roach’s Trumbo is an engaging and finely written biographical drama. With great performances, the film is a must see.

Successful Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo is also a member of the Communist Party in the 1940s. When the House of Un-American Activities Committee starts to investigate the film industry, Trumbo and several of his colleagues find themselves blacklisted…

There is a difficulty in writing a film about a brilliant screenwriter. However, John McNamara pulls it off with Trumbo. There are plenty of films about Hollywood and filmmaking, several of these are excellent in fact, but Trumbo shows a darker period and aspect of the industry. Despite the seriousness of the issue, there is a playfulness that avoids a descent into bleakness. Nevertheless, this in no way diminishes the hardships of those affected.

Trumbo‘s narrative is well constructed; the real strength of the film is its screenplay. The film covers an extensive period, yet it never feels like it is not delving into relevant parts of each era. McNarama shows the light and shade of such a time. The film does broadly characterise heroes and villains with sufficient shades of grey. Characters are three dimensional enough to not be caricatures. Above all, Trumbo paints the absurdity and sadness of the situation.

Jay Roach’s direction is solid, and production values in the film are good. Fans of Classic Hollywood will surely enjoy the portrayal of well-known faces from this era. Bryan Cranston delivers a wonderful performance in the title role. Diane Lane is also good as wife Cleo. There are some great smaller parts in the film; Helen Mirren and John Goodman appear to be having fun roles.

Trumbo highlights a significant figure in Hollywood history, and an important aspect of that history. The film takes its subject matter to weave a engrossing picture.

Trumbo is being screened at the London Film Festival in October 2015.

Film Review: The Campaign

The Campaign is a comedy that is as silly as American political campaigns themselves. The short running time and frequent gags make the film enjoyable.

Expecting to run unopposed again, Congressman Cam Brady expects to coast to victory in North Carolina. However, the CEOs of a corporation are looking for a candidate they can easily influence. They put forward Marty Huggins, political unknown and manager of the tourist centre…

The Campaign plays up the ludicrousness of American political ideology in an amusing manner. This is not intellectual satire, but base and sometimes crass comedy geared solely towards gaining laughs. The first half of the film is more enjoyable than the second, given that it lays more emphasis on gags. Nevertheless, the 95-minute running time ensures that the film never really drags.

There is not too much to the plot; the aim seems to be squarely on lampooning American politics. For the most part this works. The jokes hit more often than they miss, although those looking for more intellectual humour will be disappointed. When director Jay Roach tries to inject a more serious element, this appears at odds with the crass humour that populates the film.

The Campaign features an overarching commentary on the nature of American political funding. This is writ large; the message could not be more overt. The film is most enjoyable when it concentrates on the gags, rather than this elementary pontificating. After all, The Campaign is a light comedy with its humour able to be universally understood. It fails slightly when it tries to do more than this.

The all-star cast do a good job in The Campaign. Will Ferrell brings his usual outlandishness to the role, while Zach Galifianakis amuses as well. There is a tiny cameo by a well-known star, which most will find amusing.

The Campaign is exactly what viewers would expect from the trailer. Fans of this brand of comedy will find it amusing, but it offers little more than this.

Film Review: Dinner for Schmucks

What do you get when you cross Jay Roach, the director of Meet the Parents, with actors Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and Zach Galifianakis? Dinner for Schmucks, a comedy that is only sporadically funny, and ultimately disappoints.

In order to achieve a big promotion at work, Tim needs to find an idiot to bring to his boss’ dinner party. After bumping into an unusual guy called Barry, Tim thinks he has found the perfect guest, little realising the impact Barry will have on his life…

Like many others, Dinner for Schmucks is a film that attempts to straddle humour with a more heartfelt narrative. Thanks to the performances of Rudd and Carell, the emotion seems genuine, yet the comedy is lacking in comparison. Surprising, considering the talent involved in the film. Whilst there are some laughs to be had, the film does not live up to expectations. The climactic scene, in particular, should have been much more humorous than it is.

As Barry, Carell is amusing, and elicits sympathy in the film’s more serious moments. However, some of the humour from this character falls flat, and he occasionally comes across as annoying. The most humorous characters in the film are Therman (played by Galifianakis) and artist Kieran (Jermaine Clement). Therman is comical in how serious he takes himself, whilst Kieran is often hilarious as the larger-than-life artist interested in Tim’s girlfriend. In a minor role, David Walliams is not as amusing as perhaps the filmmakers intended.

The film’s title sequence depicts the mice artworks (Barry’s hobby) being assembled with pain-staking detail. Accompanied by Theodore Shapiro’s lovely score, this introduction gives the impression of an offbeat, quirky little movie. The marketing for Dinner for Schmucks would suggest a raucous comedy. The end result in fact is neither of these; it is a comedy that fails to be consistently funny.

Furthermore, the message of the film conflicts too overtly with the aim. Whilst on the one hand the audience is supposed to laugh at the peculiarities of Barry, on the other we are told that it is wrong to make fun of people who are a bit different. Had Dinner for Schmucks decided to plump for just one of these opinions (either that it is fine to laugh at others, or that it is wrong), it may have been a better film.

Ultimately, however, Dinner for Schmucks showcases a range of comedic talent let down by a lacklustre script.