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Trumbo

Hollywood loves talking about itself with films such as ‘The Player’ and ‘Sunset Boulevard’.  Using cinema to reveal fictional scandals of real-life counterparts allows film-makers to vent without being sued.  When some of its participants are dead then movies are made about subjects who no longer have libel laws on their side.  ‘Trumbo’ charts a chapter in the life of a famed screen-writer. The person himself shouldn’t be too aggrieved by his cinematic depiction as it shows a man of conviction refusing to be defeated by a rotten system.

 

In the 1940’s, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was Hollywood’s top screen-writer.  An expert at words, he became tongue-tied when charged by the House of Un-American activities.  A member of the Communist party, Trumbo’s beliefs saw him become blacklisted and jailed.  Determined to expose this injustice he wrote under other names which led to further success.  With the likes of gossip queen Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) looking on, Trumbo became a subversive avenger like the heroes in his scripts.

 

‘Trumbo’ is an interesting story of someone refusing to give in.  Bull-headed in his beliefs, Trumbo sought to fight against right-wing conservative agencies.  With an era full of them his battle was difficult but not impossible.  Taking a toll on his family, mental health and professional life, his creative egotism and close friendships would be tested.  More importantly, Trumbo wanted his name to be no longer used for scorn and make it mean something once more.

 

None of this would work as well if not for Cranston’s performance.  Embodying Trumbo’s tenacious nature but still showing emotional foibles, Cranston successfully conveys his character’s imperfections.  His co-stars including Diane Lane, as Trumbo’s wife, all give excellent renditions of people with their own agendas.  Whilst the screenplay suffers from a somewhat predictable bio-pic formula, it has enough crackling energy to maintain engagement.

 

It’s always exciting seeing a movie depicting a moment in time not often remarked.  ‘Trumbo’ may have some narrative faults but it has an abundance of strong characters to make it shine.  Once again Hollywood has shone a light on itself but in this instance its self-indulgence is welcome.

 

Rating out of 10:  7

Concussion

Like any big business, the sports industry is a multi-billion dollar entity.  Woe-betide anyone going up against it as most huge corporations rely on clean, positive reputations.  ‘Concussion’ explores what happens when a doctor dares expose some of its injustices.  A true story fitting into any ‘David vs. Goliath’ motif, it shows how bravely speaking out can create a better ethos from which to live.

 

Gifted Nigerian doctor Bennett Omalu (Will Smith) has immigrated to America to start afresh.  Working in a top Pittsburgh hospital, he discovers a new football related brain trauma he calls CTE.  Notifying his colleagues including Julian (Alec Baldwin) and Cyril (Albert Brooks), he soon hits a brick wall in the form of the powerful National Football League.  Denying all responsibility, they soon turn the screws on Bennett as he refuses to stay silent about the deadly condition.

 

When he wants to Will Smith can act.  His performance in ‘Concussion’ makes it watchable in spite of a script pulling its punches.  His role as Bennett is very sympathetic as the doctor’s methodical nature reveals long-buried secrets.  Bennett’s conviction in pursuing the NRL is commendable pitted against a mega-conglomerate doing what it can to stop the truth from coming out.  ‘Concussion’ also shows Bennett’s desire to integrate himself into an American lifestyle despite battling a symbol of his newly adopted country.

 

Where ‘Concussion’ falters is its lack of impact.  Events are told in a standard fashion with the over-earnest narrative failing to linger in the memory.  The blows landed on the NRL chiefs are only half-hearted as if even the film studio was afraid of being too hard on them.  Ironic given the subject matter with thinly drawn characters derived from the bio-pic playbook.  Peter Landesman’s direction also fails to draw out the emotional depths the story needs, making ‘Concussion’ feel like a ‘disease of the week’ TV movie.

 

There’s an interesting movie waiting to be made about the corrupt practices of the NRL, although ‘Concussion’ isn’t it.  Although raising some intriguing issues, it tells them in a less impactful way.  Only occasionally does it fire with dodgy big business still deserving of scorn.

 

Rating out of 10:  6