Three years ago, director Adam McKay broke free from his straight comedy roots with “The Big Short,” a darkly humorous, yet revealing examination of the 2008 U.S. financial crisis.
With big banks in the crosshairs, the film was largely an apolitical (or at least bipartisan) thrashing of the series of events that led America to the mortgage crisis and great economic downturn.
McKay has set his sights directly on Washington D.C. with his latest feature “Vice,” an idiosyncratic, ruthless commentary on the politics of power.
“Vice” frames McKay’s arguments through the lens of Dick Cheney, vice president to 43th U.S. President George W. Bush and a man the film calls “one of the most secretive leaders in history.
While McKay paints “Vice” in broad, sweeping strokes as an indictment of the U.S. political arena as a whole, the intricacy and depth Christian Bale achieves in his portrayal is so nuanced and exact that it’s almost as if Bale is acting in a different film than the one McKay directs.
Bale’s immersive turn as Cheney earned him a Golden Globe Sunday evening and cemented the Academy Award winning actor as a frontrunner to take home an Oscar later this spring.
It’s almost uncanny just how much of a doppelganger Bale becomes as the cinematic version of Cheney, a dry man of few words that exudes a boring outward persona that allows Cheney to take his political rivals by surprise.
There’s a measure, deliberate tone to Bale’s performance in “Vice.” Viewers can easily see the wheels churning in Cheney’s brain as he methodically gets what he wants.
This is brilliantly displayed over a five minute stretch of the movie, where Cheney figuratively reels Bush in like a fish on the line while exacting as much control as he can before accepting an offer to be Bush’s running mate.
A very game Sam Rockwell, fresh off an Oscar win for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” plays a convincing Bush, yet it’s more of an elevated caricature as opposed to Bale’s pinpoint accuracy as Cheney.
The same is largely true of a terrific Steve Carell as Congressman and later Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a turn that is equal parts cerebral and comic with a candid bravado that makes Carell’s Rumsfeld the most larger-than-life character in the film.
Amy Adams often steals scenes as driven wife Lynne Cheney, portrayed not as a political schemer but rather self-interested kingmaker pushing her husband forward by any means necessary.
“Vice” strives to tackle the political arena with the same fervor that McKay used in “The Big Short.”
Though both films intend to find flaws in a bipartisan (or better still, a nonpartisan) manner, “Vice” will easily come across as an attack on the Republican Party, both then and now.
There are numerous digs – some more veiled than other – intended as potshots at the current administration and media outlet Fox News, but “Vice” almost also serves as McKay’s insistence that things might have been worse off before 2016.
McKay’s superb screenplay throws viewers for a loop over and over during the early portions of “Vice,” only to seamlessly layer these moments one on top of another like teacups and saucers stacked higher and higher.
Information is peppered at such a rapid, kinetic pace that some viewers may not be able to keep up with all the political banter relating to executive power and the war in Iraq.
“Vice” is in all likelihood a lock for a Best Picture Oscar nomination with Bale as a top contender for Best Actor.
Though Adams and Carell could also earn nods, neither looks to stand a real shot at winning. McKay should be nominated for the film’s excellent screenplay and has a chance at a Best Director nomination as well.
A mesmerizing turn from Bale as Cheney makes “Vice” well worth the price of admission, though some conservative moviegoers might find the film’s critiques too much for their liking.