Christian Bale Morphs into Dick Cheney in Seriocomic Biopic
Who is the real Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) and how did he become the most powerful vice president in U.S. history? Those are the fundamental questions explored by Vice, an alternately hilarious and sobering biopic written and directed by Adam McKay.
McKay won an Oscar in 2016 for his brilliant adaptation of The Big Short, the Michael Lewis best seller chronicling the complicated series of events leading to the stock market collapse of 2007. Nevertheless, he probably remains better known for having previously directed a string of sophomoric comedies starring Will Ferrell including Anchorman 1 and 2, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers and The Other Guys.
Despite Vice‘s relatively-sophisticated subject matter, McKay’s comedic roots are showing here. And while all the jokes might prevent the audience from taking the events depicted as gospel truth, the humorous asides serve as a very welcome relief from an otherwise scary tale of blind ambition. They also have the effect of injecting a little personality into a guy who was basically a boring bureaucrat.
The picture’s point of departure is Cheney’s wayward youth marked by multiple arrests for driving under the influence and flunking out of Yale University. Back home in Wyoming, he finally gets his act together with the help of his childhood sweetheart-turned-wife, Lynne (Amy Adams). She reads him the riot act, making it clear she’s unwilling to be married to an underachieving loser like her late father.
Soon, Cheney picks politics as a career path, starting out as an assistant to Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) in the Nixon Administration. He held a number of other positions before becoming President Ford’s White House Chief of Staff.
He subsequently represented Wyoming in Congress for a decade before being appointed Secretary of Defense by President Bush 41. In 1995, he entered the private sector to serve as CEO of Halliburton.
He returned to government when George W. Bush wanted him as a running mate, but only on the condition that as V.P. he’d be in charge of foreign policy, intelligence briefings and numerous executive departments. Bush 43 agrees, thus completing the unlikely evolution of an uncharismatic political hack into a sinister Machiavellian figure with the reins of world power at his disposal.
Credit the chameleon-like Christian Bale for thoroughly disappearing into his role as Cheney. More importantly, Bale plays him with just the right combination of venom and vulnerability to humanize a complicated character quite convincingly.
F.Y.I., Vice is the third film co-starring Bale and Amy Adams. They both received Academy Award nominations for The Fighter in 2011, as well as for American Hustle in 2014, and will undoubtedly do so again for this equally-impressive collaboration. And you can bank on this seriocomic satire garnering a Best Picture nomination, too.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and violent images
Running time: 132 minutes
Production Companies: Plan B Entertainment / Gary Sanchez Productions / Annapurna Pictures
Studio: Annapurna Pictures
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening January 4, 2019
Eli (R for violence and disturbing images) Charlie Shotwell plays the title character in this horror flick about a sickly boy being quarantined for a rare disease who discovers that the secluded clinic is actually a haunted prison. With Kelly Reilly, Max Martini and Lily Taylor.
Escape Room (PG-13 for profanity, peril, terror, violence and suggestive material) Psychological thriller revolving around six strangers forced to survive by their wits after becoming ensnared in a deadly trap beyond their control. Co-starring Debra Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Niki Dodani and Jay Ellis.
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Being Rose (Unrated) Cybill Sheherd handles the title role in this romance drama as a wheelchair-bound widow who falls in love with an elderly cowboy (James Brolin) while traveling solo across the Southwest. Cast features Pam Grier, Amy Davidson and Cindy Pickett.
Great Great Great (Unrated) Romance drama about a couple (Dan Beirne and Sarah Kolasky) whose blissful relationship starts to fall apart when they finally get engaged after being together for five years. Support cast includes Richard Clarkin, Lindsay Leese and Ian Fisher.
Mojin: The Worm Valley (Unrated) Action-oriented sequel based on Luo Xiao’s best-selling series of novels finds a team of explorers embarking on a perilous expedition in search of an ancient emperor’s tomb located on a faraway island infested with treacherous monsters. Co-starring Cai Heng, Gu Xuan and Cheng Taishen. (In Mandarin with subtitles.)
Rust Creek (R for profanity, violence and drug use) Harrowing tale of survival about an ambitious college senior (Hermione Corfield) who finds herself pursued by a gang of bloodthirsty outlaws through the Kentucky backwoods after taking a wrong turn on her way to a job interview. With Jay Paulson, Sean O’Bryan and Jeremy Glazer.
State Like Sleep (Unrated) Suspense thriller revolving around a young widow (Katherine Waterston) who receives an unsettling phone call directing her return to Brussels to unravel the mystery of her husband’s (Michiel Huisman) untimely death. Cast includes Michael Shannon, Luke Evans and Mary Kay Place.
The Vanishing (R for violence and profanity) Fact-based thriller set on a tiny Scottish isle where three lighthouse keepers (Gerard Butler, Peter Mullan and Connor Swindells) vanish without a trace after finding a treasure chest filled with gold aboard a shipwrecked rowboat. With Olafur Darri Olafsson, Gary Lewis and Emma King.