Review: Was Dick Cheney political hero or cynical villain? Christian Bale shines in Vice
Vice; dir: Adam McKay; starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe, Tyler Perry, LisaGay Hamilton, Justin Kirk, Eddie Marsan. Cert: 15
Last year Gary Oldman won the best actor Oscar for delivering a stand-out performance as Winston Churchill buried under layers of latex. Now fellow Brit Christian Bale is aiming to do the same as Dick Cheney in Vice, a dark satire following the Machiavellian career of the man who served as George W Bush’s deputy and key figure in George Bush senior’s administration.
It’s an extraordinary told by writer-director in a surprisingly unconventional way. There are several moments were McKay, as the film-maker, breaks the fourth wall rather than the characters. He makes clear that the events in the film are based on true events but because Cheney is the most secretive politician in US history it has been virtually impossible to fact check anything.
Nevertheless Vice presents us with an entertainingly compelling portrait of a man who went from a falling down drunk in the mid-60s to arguably the most powerful man on earth in the early 2000s.
It’s not a one-man show either because Amy Adams plays the power behind Cheney’s throne as his ambitious wife Lynne, who fed up at his drunken antics tells him to shape up or she will ship out.
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He gets a job as an intern with Nixon’s administration and becomes part of Donald Rumsfeld’s (Carell) team. Rumsfeld is presented as a frighteningly cold, calculating politician who will gladly sacrifice members of his own party to advance his cause. Somehow Cheney and Rumsfeld bonded and Cheney learned a lot from his mentor. It is argued that he went one stage further than Rumsfeld and sacrificed a family member in order to get ahead.
Bale also gets strong support from Sam Rockwell as George W Bush, the so-called idiot son of George Bush senior, and the film makes clear that Cheney strikes a deal with the surprisingly naive Bush junior to run the US economy, the military and foreign policy as his price for accepting the ‘nothing’ role as Vice-President. “George, I see you are best at taking in the big picture and making decisions based on the over view. How about you let me take care of the day to day business?” he suggests and George W agrees.
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However, when the planes hit the twin towers it is Cheney running the country not George W who is stuck afloat in Airforce One and McKay argues is kept at arms length by Cheney who sees an opportunity to seize more, unregulated power.
Sam Rockwell does an amazing job at making George W into a likeable man who was clearly out of his depth and controlled by Cheney who acted as a puppet master filling the White House with his appointees rather than Bush’s own allies.
Interestingly, Bale plays Dick Cheney not as a political zealot but rather as an ambitious man. Early in the film he is shown choosing to serve a Republican senator on a whim because he liked the man’s rough, dismissive behaviour.
Much of material which is revealed on film is very dark but Adam McKay maintains a remarkable balancing act keeping his subject human without whitewashing his actions. He understands a villain is always more interesting if he isn’t an out and out monster but merely does monstrous things. This allows both subject and the film-maker to keep their power to shock.
This is an extraordinary film which looks like a bio-pic but plays like a black comedy and yet at the same time never lets the audience forget that this is a satire not a documentary – or is it?
A very clever, very entertaining political thriller.
Previewed courtesy of Cineworld, Ipswich.