For our earlier review of Vice, click here.
Synopsis: The epic story of how a bureaucratic Washington insider quietly became the most powerful man in the world as Vice-President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today. (Annapurna Pictures)
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Steve Carell
Writer: Adam McKay
Director: Adam McKay
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 132mins
Depending on where your particular political affiliations lie, you will either love or hate this, a scathing biopic of former Vice President Dick Cheney, from the writer/director of The Big Short. Compared to The Big Short, this film follows the same formula in terms of meta humor though is nowhere near as effective this time, instead choosing to balance it with more a story. Albeit, that story often felt like a series of Wikipedia entries than an actual story. When it came to Cheney’s story, there’s a lot of things that people know but there’s also quite a lot that people don’t know (myself included). Though it is debatable whether or not the film takes any liberties with his story, the film definitely does not pull any punches.
The story jumped around a little too much while telling what was in essence, a story about Dick Cheney (Bale) and his wife Lynne (Adams) that rushed through their humble beginnings in Casper, Wyoming before their inevitable rise to power in Washington D.C.. As most stories go, they had their ups and downs but we already know where they’d end up. While Dick was a perennial screw-up who would find his calling in politics, Lynne was a highly intelligent and ambitious Lady Macbeth type who saw Dick as her way to the top. Watching Dick learn the ropes in D.C. was fun to watch as he developed his ruthlessness that he used to rise even further.
Cheney was mostly just a way in so the film could keep riffing on the politics of the time, focusing on the Republican party, however, this story isn’t as compatible with the meta humor. The film’s narrator, who also happened to be a character named Kurt (Jesse Plemons), would occasionally chime in with some fourth wall breaking. However, this type of story didn’t need a narrator with the narration quickly becoming redundant and what the film did with him later on didn’t quite work. The Cheney’s rise had its stops and starts but the allure of politics always seemed to pull them back in. The story really got going once he aligned himself with former president George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) and became his Vice President, a position that would become so much more.
The film depicted Cheney as a conniving puppet master and this was most evident as he effectively undermined the younger Bush and carved himself a position of power that he used to get away with a lot of questionable things. The fact that he was able to do what he did and get away with it speaks to the film’s criticism of him and the Republican party of the time. Of course, the terrorist attacks on September 11th would serve as a major turning point for him. In fact, the film made him out to be single-handedly responsible for many if not all of Bush’s controversial polices that came afterwards.
The story may not have been as effective but what kept it engaging were the excellent performances and chemistry across the board. Much has been said about Christian Bale’s performance here and the hype was definitely justified. All the work to transform him into Cheney was impressive to behold as was Adams’ transformation into Lynn Cheney and many of the other actors within the cast, including Carell into Donald Rumsfeld. Bale simply becomes Cheney, capturing all his mannerisms as well as his ruthlessness. Ultimately, the film would not have worked without him as he makes an unlikable character compelling to watch. Adams’ Lynne may not be as deep as Dick but her ambitious performance followed along the same lines as Bale.
Overall, depending on where your particular political affiliations lie, this was an effective and scathing, though arguably heavy-handed, satire that didn’t always succeed, featuring several great performances, led by Christian Bale’s transformative performance as Cheney. Many will surely not agree with what it was trying to do which would explain its divided reception but that is par for the course. While it may not be as effective as The Big Short, it’s still a fun time to be had.