In Jay Roach’s Trumbo, Bryan Cranston plays a Hollywood screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo who is famous for writing such Hollywood classics as Exodus and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. He was blacklisted and briefly imprisoned for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. But, even in this situation, he managed to win two Academy Awards and subsequently expose the ridiculousness of his situation. This biographical film portraying those events premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to a fairly enthusiastic reviews earlier this year and will receive a theatrical run this month in the United States.
Composer Theodore Shapiro got to watch the film before it was temp tracked. That opportunity gave his a chance to create a more unique approach that doesn’t really sound like anything else. It’s a mixture of jazz, electronics and eerie metallic percussive effects that bring back the fond memory of Breaking Bad’s quirkiness (in which Bryan Cranston played a main role). The off-kilter jazzy rhythms of ‘Eighty Words a Minute’ set a tone for the entire album. It’s both hilarious and bizarre. The material is later reprised in ‘A Script for the Kings’ and ‘Benzedrine’ to a great effect.
Shapiro make a really classy use of all the ensemble’s individual sections. ‘Ping Pong’ is a melancholic echoing solo piano piece. Another delightful piano can be heard in ‘A Letter From Prison’, this time with curious electronic/acoustic distortions in the background. The solo clarinet, such an underused instrument in modern scoring, brings really cool flavour to ‘Buddy’s Dilemma’. Some warmer material, often highlighted with heartfelt harp solos, can be heard in ‘Family Reunion’ and ‘No Bullies’. The score feels both like it belongs both in the 1940-1950’s period as well as the contemporary cinema. It’s a delightful hybrid of old and new.
Some of the score sounds like a cross between traditional noir and heist movies (‘Family Business’). The muted brass of ‘Scirpts Montage’ and ‘The Mexican Spirit’ sounds like something Bernard Herrmann would have written back in that era of filmmaking. The moody sustained string writing occasionally recalls Howard Shore’s darker works (‘Hedda Threatens Mayer’) as well as David Shire’s terrific Zodiac from 2007.
The final portion of the soundtrack album is decidedly more melancholic and introspective. Some string arrangement in ‘It’s Over’ and ‘It’s a Fine Picture’ sound like a crossover between the styles of Thomas Newman and Alex North. They seem resolved and content but still retain a certain degree of bitterness. Good stuff from Shapiro. Finally, there are two source tracks from Billie Holiday and Jay McNeely present on the album. The both work nicely with the score material.
Among the more conventional film music written in 2015, Trumbo sounds very unique. Its ingredients might not be exactly completely fresh but a clever wit of Shapiro’s writing creates an unique atmosphere and mood that will be refreshing to most listeners. The 47-minute might not strike you with strong melodies or unified thematic narrative but it’s a colourful and wonderfully crafted listening experience that will serve as a nice palate cleanser after all those tired cliches and conventions of most modern film scores. Stylish and elegant work from Theodore Shapiro.
Trumbo is out now from Lakeshore Records