By Nick Maylor
I never thought I’d live in a world where the following statement would be factually accurate:
From Academy Award-winner Adam McKay, director of Anchorman (2004) and Step Brothers (2008).
What an amazing world it is we live in.
I was familiar with Adam McKay’s work long before I knew his name. Back in the late 90s/early 2000s, he was a writer on Saturday Night Live and began a partnership with Will Ferrell that has lasted to this day. Ferrell serves as a producer on Vice and starred in all of McKay’s films until The Big Short (2015), McKay’s first foray into dramatic territory. For The Big Short, Christian Bale was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and McKay (along with Charles Randolph) won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. McKay decided to tackle an even more ambitious project with his follow up to The Big Short. Vice is the story of former United States Vice President Dick Cheney. McKay convinced Bale to portray the former VP. The actor (known for his dramatic transformations) managed to surpass even the highest of expectations with his hauntingly accurate channelling of the stoic and secretive Cheney. It is indeed difficult to distinguish the actor from the subject as Bale is near-unrecognizable in the role.
Sam Rockwell appears in the film as former US President George W. Bush. Rockwell is not the first actor to portray Bush under McKay’s direction. Will Ferrell famously lampooned the former President on Saturday Night Live and McKay directed Ferrell’s one-man Broadway show You’re Welcome America: A Final Night With George W. Bush wherein the comedian again stars as Bush. Rockwell’s performance as Bush is minimal in terms of screen-time but is remarkably affecting as he inhabits the former Commander-in-Chief almost as well as Bale does Cheney.
The original screenplay was written by McKay and while based on a true story, the film openly admits in the opening title cards, that honestly portraying the life of such a secretive man is no easy task…
But they did their best.
As noted by Bale in interviews for the film, one of the most interesting aspects of Cheney is that while clearly motivated by the pursuit of power, he pursues it for someone else. Cheney had little desire for the spotlight and had resigned himself not to ever run for President. Cheney’s saving grace moment in the film is when he chooses family over politics, at least the first time he is presented with the conundrum. Ever since Richard Dreyfus excellently played George W. Bush’s Vice President in Oliver Stone’s W. (2008), I have viewed him as the devil on the 43rd President’s shoulder; whispering sinister ideas into George’s ear. Cheney’s manipulation of everyone around him; his cunning and opportunism, can’t help but be somewhat admired when watching this massively entertaining film. A crucial humanizing moment grounds him as a real person; much more than the caricature I made of him a few sentences ago. However, the film ends completely on the nose as Cheney offers the audience his final thoughts, refusing to apologize for who he is or what he has done.
Unapologetic is an apt description of the film itself. Bold as ever, McKay employs an unconventional narrator, Shakespearean-like dialogue, non-linear storytelling and various other cheeky means of telling his story. Whispers abound about a big musical number that didn’t make the final cut.
McKay’s journey as a filmmaker has become fascinating. From his comedic roots to this new world of gold-statues and real-life stories to tell, he’s proven himself a formidable force in Hollywood. Where his career could go from here is anybody’s guess but everyone should pay close attention.
Christian Bale is known for his intense physical transformations when preparing for a role. He’s was skeletal in The Machinist (2004), ripped in American Psycho (2000) and The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012), and fat in American Hustle (2013). It’s most fascinating to me that he never uses the same extreme physique for two movies in a row. If you look at the timeline of his roles, his weight goes up and down like a bouncing ball. Now 45, the actor has admitted to being more cautious about his health (he’s already trimmed and healthy again).
Preparation isn’t performance. Gaining 40 lbs to play Dick Cheney doesn’t earn someone an Oscar nomination. As is true with Bale, the performance stands on its own. Even after seeing Bale in full makeup as Cheney, when the trailer was released, I was awe-struck at his complete transformation. He simply inhabits Cheney completely, down to the last detail. It’s a marvel to behold.
Brilliant as always, Amy Adams’ Lynne Cheney is the rock behind the man. Fueled by her ambition for herself and her husband, she pushes Dick to be the biggest and best he can be. Almost analogous to how Cheney might have held the strings for Bush; Lynne certainly held some of them for Dick.
Vice (2018) is currently in theatres and is nominated for eight Oscars: Best Picture, Director (McKay), Actor (Bale), Supporting Actor (Rockwell), Supporting Actress (Adams), Original Screenplay (McKay) Film Editing, and Makeup & Hairstyling.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor