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Vice

Year: 2018
Production Co: Annapurna
Director: Adam McKay
Producer: Dede Gardner/Will Ferrell/Adam McKay
Writer: Adam McKay
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Eddie Marsan, Justin Kirk, Jesse Plemons, LisaGay Hamilton, Tyler Powell

Every time an actor who's played a real person is interviewed about the role, one thing they all say about doing so is of not wanting to do an impersonation of the character physically but find and tap into the deeper emotional drives they contain.

In this case, the chameleonic Christian Bale's role as the Machieavellian Bush Jr-era Vice President Dick Cheney is actually nothing more than an impersonation. That's not Bale's fault – the real Cheney was pretty impenetrable and kept away from the limelight (something the film addresses directly), so there's very little Bale probably had to go on apart from a few interviews on YouTube.

But he at least has the physical presence right. Along with the costuming and his famously method role preparation (a lot of pies, according to Bale) to depict the rotund veep in his later years, he has tics like the way Cheney tugs the corner of his mouth to one side as he starts to speak down pat.

Being from the same brains trust – and with the same creative intent – as The Big Short in writer/director Adam McKay, it's ostensibly a biopic of Cheney from his hard partying days as an Ivy League university dropout to arguably the most powerful man in the world.

But with the same crazy chronology, crazy fourth wall-breaking and pastiche of elements as The Big Short, it's far from a straight telling of Cheney's life. The most outrageous, surprising and in many ways successful device is the narration by a young man who calls himself Kurt (Jesse Plemons), telling you he's related to Cheney in some way. I won't reveal how, but when it's revealed it's the darkest of black comedy moments.

It's a milieu McKay sets at the outset, the film opening with a title card reading 'This is a true story. Or as true as it can be... But we did our fucking best.' Then, at about the halfway point, after he becomes CEO of Halliburton and leaves politics, a sweeping score, reversing crane shot and on-screen text about how Dick and his wife Liz (Amy Adams) lived happily ever breeding dogs signals the end of the film, Hallmark channel style.

It then ends abruptly when the phone rings, with George W Bush (Sam Rockwell) on the other end to start the ball rolling making Cheney his running mate.

Most of the story is stuff history has already told us in basic terms – about how he was a congressional staffer with a brash, early career Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell, who looks uncannily like the former Defence Secretary, especially later in life), how he was the real powerbroker behind Bush, and how he and Rumsfeld colluded to initiate the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan when 9/11 gave them the opportunity.

Because Cheney was so secretive, almost everything in the script is probably made up. Even though the pivotal conversation between Cheney and Bush probably didn't happen as literally as it's depicted it's still hilarious, with Cheney telling the idiot President-to-be he'll join his ticket if he can control a few minor policy areas like energy, foreign policy, military, etc (ie all of them).

It humanises Cheney as much as it can by his standing by his gay daughter even though his government's official position was against gay marriage, but mostly it's about the freewheeling storytelling itself.

It's as lively and entertaining as The Big Short was, but didn't make much of a dent at the box office. Like we all are about Trump as I write these words, the average Western moviegoer was probably just so fatigued about the foreign policy and economic train wrecks of the 2000s they just wanted to forget Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld ever existed.

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