mon 22/07/2024

Vice review - Christian Bale on surging and satiric form | reviews, news & interviews

Vice review - Christian Bale on surging and satiric form

Vice review - Christian Bale on surging and satiric form

Adam McKay's Oscar hopeful entertains and chills

Makeover: Christian Bale as Dick Cheney

Satire was once thought in America to be that thing that closed on Saturday night. Not here: filmmaker Adam McKay goes the distance with Vice, a hurtling examination of realpolitik that puts Dick Cheney under a spotlight at once satiric and scary. Do we have Dubya's onetime veep to thank for the subsequent rise of Trump and the parlous state of affairs Stateside since then?

Perhaps, and one of the many strengths of this eight-times-nominated Oscar hopeful is its ability to cover the historic and thematic waterfront whilst keeping a keen eye on the slippery if malign presence at its centre. 

Any praise must begin, of course, with that master of transformation, Christian Bale, who shape-shifts yet again to become the Nebraska-born, pudding-faced Yale dropout who went on to become the power behind a mightily tarnished throne. First seen being pulled drunk from a car in 1963 Wyoming, age 22, young Dick goes on to become the indrawn but feral author of a rule book all his own  a man who, it could be argued, had no heart were the film not at great (and greatly comic) pains to remind us in vivid detail of the actual heart problems that have plagued Cheney throughout his life. (The real Cheney turns 78 next week.) 

Christian Bale and Amy Adams in 'Vice' McKay's anatomical closeups may be too vivid for some, but they remain part and parcel of the cheeky celluloid arsenal of a filmmaker who deploys much the same methodology here that he brought to his prevous Bale starrer, The Big Short, three years ago. Time and again, a thrusting narrative is interrupted with some key factoid or another, alongside (in this film) a mysterious, SpongeBob-loving narrator (Jesse Plemons) whose identity is only made clear late on. 

Along the way, we follow Dick's rise and rise from the young boozer berated by an ever-ambitious wife (Amy Adams, pictured with Bale above) to his early apprenticeship at the side of Donald Rumsfeld and on to his fierce advocacy of the "unitary executive theory" and the belief that the president has primacy, full stop. Entering history books as the youngest-ever White House chief of staff in 1975, Cheney keeps hands both in politics and in business, exiting the energy monolith Halliburton with a $26 million severance package (though many at the time quoted a substantially higher figure). We are reminded of a love of waterboarding that last year brought Cheney shame-facedly into contact with a cunning Sacha Baron Cohen and of a comparative disinterest in anything resembling ethics. "If the US does it, then by definition it can't be torture," he remarks. Well, that's that then. 

Sam Rockwell in 'Vice'Through it all, Bale plays the character commendably close to his chest, any chinks in the armour reserved for his adoration of daughter Mary (Alison Pill), whose lesbianism drives a wedge between her and politico-sister Liz (Lily Rabe). One senses Cheney sowing the seeds of what would become ISIS or ISIL even as the character is seen doing perhaps his deepest thinking as and when he is gargling: the larky over the lofty is McKay's admirable strategy throughout. To that extent, McKay finds a cinematic ally in Sam Rockwell's deceptively rollicking Bush jr (pictured above) though of all the film's Oscar nods, Rockwell's is the least deserved: We've been there before.

Fleeting mention is made of Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence, and Donald Trump makes an appearance alongside, of all unlikely screenmates, Jane Fonda. But Vice is careful not to load too much polemic into its finely calibrated tale of party politics run sometimes mirthfully if always morally amok, and McKay flirts with an unexpected literary precedent in none other than the Macbeths, whom Adams and Bale get to play for at least an iamb or two.

Her demure mien hiding a will of iron that goads her husband ever onwards, Adams re-teams nicely with her American Hustle co-star, and Bale true to form loses himself so fully in the part that one remains dumbfounded when he pops up at one or another awards ceremony sporting his British brogue. I don't know whether Feb 24 will find Bale at the Oscar podium for a second time, but he's the redoubtable anchor of a remarkable film: his performance the defining strength in a real-life tale whose punning title suggests that we haven't found our way towards virtue yet.

The larky over the lofty is McKay's admirable strategy throughout


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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