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Soundtrack review: Trumbo (Theodore Shapiro – 2015)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Trumbo (Theodore Shapiro – 2015)


Ever since I first saw the trailer for ”Trumbo” I put this movie on my must watch list. Bryan Cranston can do no wrong and the story also seems very interesting. The successful career of 1940s screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) comes to a crushing end when he and other Hollywood figures are blacklisted for their political beliefs in Communism. Trumbo tells the story of his fight against the U.S. government and studio bosses in a war over words and freedom, which entangled everyone in Hollywood from Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and John Wayne to Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger. Theodore Shapiro wrote the score and he’s one of those composers who always deliver solid work. I don’t have a score by him I instantly remember but I’ve almost always enjoyed his music.

From the trailer and the story I’m expecting a jazzy and almost sarcastic score. Plus it’s all set in the 50s and that might influence it. This is a difficult territory for me but I keep an open mind and ear. With this approach I can appreciate “Eighty words a minute” and its jolly percussion and hide and seek piano. I smile at the big band sound of ‘Curriculum vitae”. This seems like the kind of frantic jazz I could get on board with. I think this is how Shapiro imagined the main character; this is the sound of Trumbo’s mind.

When the moments are more dramatic and our character goes to prison the music mirrors his sadness. It’s still piano driven but the mood is more somber, the piano sounds deeper and the lights are out. I like these quieter cues. The sweet dark insert “Ping pong” is just a few sparse piano strokes supported by the softest of percussion touches.

Still the backbone of the score is that frantic jazz, the sign of a mind that never stops working and of a guy who never stops talking. The sound is also a bit spy like, as if someone was always watching the music from the darkness. In fact I would call this score “shadowy”. I get a Pink Panther vibe every now and then. The music is performer cleverly and the percussion and strings make it sound as if someone is tiptoeing all the time. “Trumbo” stays true to its sound even if sometimes it makes me want to rush through the cues.

If you like alert jazzy music, this one is for you. Even if I am not a fan, I enjoyed “Trumbo” as a breeze of fresh air. I can’t wait to see the film and enjoy the score in context as well.

Cue rating: 84 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 9 / 42

Album excellence: 23%


Curriculum Vitae

Trumbo Goes To Prison

Ping Pong

Buddy’s Dilemma

So I Rage

It’s Over



Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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