In his great movies and Schindler’s List (1993) and Lincoln (2012), Steven Spielberg provided a good model for adapting tragic historic drama to celluloid. Instead of taking a sprawling subject like the Holocaust or the Civil War and trying to capture all of it, you narrowcast. Take one relatively small patch of time, such as Lincoln’s attempt to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, or a few years in the life of World War II hero Oskar Schindler, and focus on that. It sharpens the plot and suspense and intensifies the performance of the actors.
On publicity junkets for Trumbo, star Bryan Cranston has repeated the line, “Everyone has the right to be wrong.” Cranston claims this quote came from Dalton Trumbo himself, and shows that the blacklisted screenwriter supported and defended everyone’s right to free speech.
The real Trumbo didn’t. The movie is frank about his membership in the American Communist Party, but its makers (director Jay Roach, screenwriter John McNamara) give us not a hint of what that entailed, or how roundly contradicted is Trumbo-the-free-speech-avatar by Trumbo the actual person.