Bryan Cranston parades through Trumbo, a wiki-pageant of shorthand history, like he's a costumed kid playing Actor Bryan Cranston at a Disney park. As blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a man given to mannered diction, Cranston layers movieland falseness over the scraped-raw heart of his Breaking Bad triumph. You never get to see Cranston's Trumbo think, which is a demerit in a movie about a writer: Here, the two-time Oscar winner, for pseudonymous work on The Brave One and Roman Holiday, only speaks lines that he might have composed -- the ringing dialogue of classic Hollywood -- even when knocking about the house. Trumbo served two years in jail for his refusal to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and Cranston declaims his letters to home: "Yet in all things I know that I am the luckiest unlucky man ever to be," he says, and however pretty that line might be, the movie is wrecked by the fact that it sounds exactly like everything else he ever says.
The film fails as a portrait, and it's not much better at drama. This is a Hollywood where everyone always takes a moment to sum up the current situation for us at the beginning of each scene, where Hedda Hopper (a one-note Helen Mirren) snaps at Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow), "Forty years ago you were starving in some shtetl!" Christian Berkel's Otto Preminger is cute, but the movie is stolen by John Goodman as Frank King, skinflint producer of cheapo B flicks, a robust comic figure who gets all the best lines and speaks them like a human being might.