‘Vice’ biopic turns Dick Cheney’s public life into a dark comedy
Can someone please put Adam McKay in charge of all the biopics? Instead of the typical, dutiful slog through a life, the “Big Short” director has a ball with his Dick Cheney profile, playing gleefully within the genre while, he attests, he and his crew still “did our f - - king best” to hew to the essential facts about one of America’s most secretive politicians.
Lead Christian Bale is almost certainly headed for another Oscar nomination with his all-in performance. The actor reportedly gained 40 pounds, sporting an impressively thick neck and potbelly in Cheney’s later years as vice president. It’s the era for which McKay saves his harshest scrutiny. (And that’s in a film with opening credits that are preceded by Cheney drunken driving as a 20-something college dropout.) More striking still is Bale’s posture, the C-shaped slump with balding head pitched forward; the resemblance to the real man is uncanny. And Bale’s got the gravelly rasp of a voice just right, too — maybe the Batman movies made good training ground.
Billed as a dramedy, the film has plenty of “WTF” funny moments, but it’s always laughter tinged with darkness. This is true of its characters, too: We see Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell, playing up the pol’s profane streak), then President Gerald Ford’s secretary of defense, cackling moments after telling Cheney, who worked for him at the time, of the impending bombing campaign in Cambodia.
The banality of evil is at the core of McKay’s film about the “monotone bureaucrat” whose low-key approach to redistributing governmental power in his own favor went largely unnoticed. The director owns up, in voice over, to the fact that one can’t know everything and, instead, veers at one point into dialogue from Shakespeare’s “Richard II” as the politician and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams, once again making a master class out of a somewhat thankless role) debate whether he should take the VP gig.
But McKay also takes dead aim at what Rumsfeld would have called the “known knowns,” or at least the pretty obvious knowns: that Cheney arranged with candidate George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell, resisting the urge to caricature) to redefine a traditionally ceremonial role. That he was instrumental in ginning up the Iraq war in the wake of 9/11, authorized the utilization of torture against deliberately vaguely labeled “enemy combatants” and arranged for the enrichment of Halliburton, the company of which Cheney was previously CEO, as a result of foreign military engagement. At the same time, McKay’s film gives fair play to depiction of Cheney as a devoted family man who shelved certain aspirations to shield his lesbian daughter (Alison Pill) from scrutiny — up to a heartbreaking turning point.
But we’re never not aware we’re watching a certain interpretation of events, and how they influenced the future. Stay for the end-credits scene of an arguing (fictional) focus group of Americans. They demonstrate a widening cultural divide that took root during the tenure of a shadowy man with, as our narrator (Jesse Plemons) puts it, an incredible ability “to make wild and extreme ideas sound reasonable.”
Source: Read Full Article