It really should come as no surprise to note just how effective Christian Bale is in Vice, but he so positively disappears into the role of former VP Dick Cheney it’s eerie to watch.
Much like how he transformed his figure into an emaciated frame for 2004’s psychological thriller The Machinist, only to considerably bulk up the following year for Batman Begins, Bale’s overweight aesthetic for Cheney is a transformative marvel – furthering his reputation as one of the industry’s true chameleonic performers.
Of course, as grand as Bale is, Vice isn’t one of those films that solely lives off the back of its central performer, with writer/director Adam McKay (Anchorman, The Big Short) compiling a feature that’s worthy of our time due to equal parts Bale’s turn, the stellar supporting cast, and McKay’s own fourth wall-breaking technique that helps spell out the intricacies of politics to the lesser-informed audience members that comes off as more playful than pandering.
Due to Cheney’s own secrecy, one can assume that much of what plays out in Vice is embellished for the sake of entertainment (an opening title card reads that they “tried their f**king best” in terms of garnering as many factual anecdotes as possible) but given how much of a circus show we have come to see the US presidency can actually be, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if this ran close to the truth. That being said, McKay’s script focuses on Cheney as a mischievous twenty-something through to his ascent into the upper annals of the United States government.
His close friendship with former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) and relationship with wife Lynne (Amy Adams) get the most traction, and much of what McKay explores is relatively serious, so it may come as a surprise to many that Vice bathes its material in a hue of sarcasm; cast members often talk directly to the audience, and there’s an amusing sequence where the closing credits run early.
This choice – much like what was adhered to in The Big Short – threatens to undercut the drama of the story, and it occasionally stifles Bale’s work; the actor often has to spew overly comical dialogue that in the mouth of any other actor could come off not nearly as masterfully convincing. Thankfully, Bale and his cohorts – which also includes a supremely amusing Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush – commit to the wink-to-the-audience approach and they sell it effortlessly.
Whilst a figure of Cheney’s considerable weight deserves a biopic of serious grandiose, McKay’s choice to play the story in a more comical fashion feels almost more organic given the Shakespearean theatrics the Oval Office often produce.
With a stellar cast including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, Oscar winning writer/director Adam McKay (The Big Short) brings his trademark wit to the fascinating true story of Vice President Dick Cheney in this brilliant new comedy. After being employed by the Bush campaign in 2000 to find the best candidates for vice president, Cheney (a transformed Christian Bale) settles on himself for the role, going on to claim more power than any vice president in history.
Vice (M) is screening in Australian theatres from December 26th 2018.