Hot Take: It doesn’t matter if you like or hate the film, you can still marvel at the transformation of Christian Bale into Dick Cheney and have no doubt he deserves the Academy Award when it’s given to him in February.
It’s a waste of time to get into the politics of Vice. The film was either preaching to the choir or further pissing you off as you shout, “This is ‘murica, dammit!” Stick around for the credits and the very meta scene addresses this all too well for me to spend any more time on the topic. To be fair, Vice feels a little too gimmicky and done before. Earlier this year, the same feeling came over me while watching Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9. It was all too familiar. Same for Vice whose riffs sound so similar to those in The Big Short, if it weren’t Adam McKay’s work, he’d be sued for copyright enfringement. Also, the same tricks and gimmicks used in The Big Short which landed so strongly (we’re looking at you Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez) weren’t quite as impactful in Vice (that’s a shot at the narrator and Shakespeare, if you’ve seen the film already). Yet there’s one thing that can’t be denied — Christian Bale fucking killed it as Dick Cheney. If you’ve frequented MHT and seen other films featuring Bale, you already know my professed admiration for the man’s talents as an actor. He’s simply the best actor in Hollywood right now. Go ahead and argue with me. We can throw down. I’m not backing off that statement no matter what or who you say. And Bale as Cheney is further evidence of this. If there were a year where only one nominee were to be named for an Award, this year with Bale as Best Actor would be it. It’s that easy.
McKay’s take on the former Vice President isn’t as scathing as you’d expect. The softer side of Cheney is frequently brought to light. Sure, it’s cut down minutes later in some way, shape or form but McKay’s efforts to humanize the man responsible for the most powerful Vice Presidency in American history and the “W” Administration’s practices of torture, war mongering and public manipulation (WMDs, anyone?) is almost off-putting. If it weren’t for an amazing cast obviously headlined by Bale but also supported by great performances from Amy Adams (as Lynne Cheney), Sam Rockwell (as George W. Bush) and Steve Carell (as Donald Rumsfeld), most notably, this might not be nearly as entertaining as it was. Heck, if it weren’t for such mesmerizing performances, the film would be too damn depressing to enjoy. For those of us most impacted by the 8 years of “W”, McKay’s Vice isn’t an easy watch. It’s hard to be reminded of how bad things can get especially considering the Cheeto in the room (or at least the Oval Office).
It’s important to emphasize how amazing Bale’s transformation is to one of the government’s more invisible key players. Except at his very youngest (a college-aged Cheney who had just dropped out of Yale and was en route to yet another DUI), Bale is almost unrecognizable under the amazing make-up job and his own ability to mimic (and sometimes mock) the former Vice President. McKay is obviously as angry about those 8 years as anyone and doesn’t bother to hide his anger within the context of the film but Bale’s unwavering performance brings some unexpected balance to the film. Maybe it’s too smug but Bale delivers what should be considered a top 3 performance of his career. Never before has Bale won Best Actor (despite a nomination for American Hustle) and he’s only 1-for-2 when nominated for Best Supporting Actor (winning for The Fighter and losing out to Mark Rylance the year he was nominated for The Big Short) yet 1-for-2 is where he should be when the announcements are made for the upcoming Academy Award winners.
When it’s recommended to see Vice, it’s less about seeing the film and more about seeing the performances. To be completely transparent, only one of the performances NEEDS to be seen and that’s the one of Bale’s portrayal of Cheney. The rest are wonderful, too. Yet this is the one you can’t miss if you’re even only a moderate movie fan.
Umm… Christian Bale… duh!
Truth can be stranger than fictionalized truth and if you’ve suffered through this truth once, do you really need to try and be entertained by it, too?