By Steven Sheehan.
Dick Cheney is often referred to as the most powerful Vice President in American history.
As the man behind the man (President George W. Bush), Cheney’s name is not widely recognised by many outside the US. So it may seem strange that a biopic about the man’s life would get the Hollywood treatment.
Yet, as Adam McKay’s Vice attempts to explain, the power he was granted as second in command changed the face of the modern world.
Taking on the role of Cheney is Christian Bale. Where Gary Oldman put on a fat suit to win an Oscar last year, Bale literally piled on 45 pounds in an attempt to snatch his own.
It starts back in 1963 when Cheney was a Yale dropout and all-around loser married to wife Lynne (Amy Adams). Vice follows him as he makes his way up the greasy pole of power in Washington.
Through the 70s he works under Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), taking up roles such as White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defence.
The vice presidency is often seen as a job in name only. However, Cheney agreed to take the role under Bush (Sam Rockwell) on the proviso he had some real power.
Played as a comedy-drama, Vice then takes us from 2001 up to the present day. En-route it takes in 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, the Iraq invasion and the War on Terror. Cheney passed laws intended to protect American citizens, but instead robbed them of privacy and destabilised the Middle East.
Those who saw McKay’s Oscar-winning film The Big Short back in 2015 will see a similar collage style used here. Vice is a hyperactive retelling of ‘history’. What that really means is the audience is asked to make several large leaps of faith along the way.
Jesse Plemons serves as narrator, attempting to explain a very long and convoluted story. Audiences will have to take in a lot of names, titles and political incidents over the course of two hours. As entertaining as McKay tries to make the narrative, it’s hard to see this making bank at the box office.
McKay seems to be saying that Cheney was power hungry and ruined thousands of lives. But there are so many jokes along the way, by the time he tries to make a serious point it struggles to land.
Tonally the film is all over the map. The banality of evil Cheney is painted as never rings true. However, none of that detracts from Bale’s dedicated performance.
His physical transformation is extraordinary and the make-up adds the finishing touch. Bale also manages to perfectly capture the quirks and mannerisms of Cheney’s presence. He doesn’t simply imitate, while also showing a different side of the man away from this public image.
Yesterday Vice picked up seven Oscar nominations and will no doubt collect one or two in February. While it fits in perfectly with the award season, it seems more suited to Hollywood than for audiences to enjoy.
Vice is released nationwide in UK cinemas on January 25th