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"VICE"
(2018) (Christian Bale, Amy Adams) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: With the help of his wife, a man turns his life around and climbs the political ladder until he becomes the Vice President of the United States.
PLOT:
In his earlier days as a young adult, Dick Cheney (CHRISTIAN BALE), doesn't seem destined for anything of note, other than possibly losing his license for too many DUIs. But then his wife, Lynne (AMY ADAMS), gives him an ultimatum to clean up his act or else she'll leave and so he does.

Signing up for a congressional intern program, he meets Congressman Donald Rumsfeld (STEVE CARELL) who takes the young man under his wings and eventually takes him over to the Nixon White House with him. That eventually results in him landing the White House Chief of Staff gig under President Ford, then being elected to Congress, serving as Secretary of Defense for President George H. W. Bush, and then Chairman and CEO of Halliburton during the Clinton years.

But when George W. Bush (SAM ROCKWELL) wants him to sign on as his running mate, Dick must decide what that would mean for his political career and how it would affect Lynne and their two daughters, Mary Cheney (ALISON PILL) and Liz Cheney (LILY RABE), all while figuring out how he might control more power than normal for such a role, including during the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Making a movie about a real-life person is always a risky cinematic gambit. For starters, one needs to make sure they have the facts right, not only so that things come off as realistic (for historians, fact checkers and everyday moviegoers who might know enough to realize when things are right or wrong) but also to avoid any potential for defamation (and possible resultant legal action).

And then there's the portrayal of said subject which either makes the viewer believe in it enough to go along for the ride or, if done poorly, can keep audiences at arm's length (or worse) since seeing (and hearing) is believing. Of course, skit shows like "Saturday Night Live" can get away with loose resemblances or caricature style appearances as long as they get the generally accepted personality traits or verbal cadences close enough for recognition.

Movies, on the other hand, need such moments of impersonation to work better than that since most aren't being done as caricature and instead are going for realism. Simply put, the more the performer disappears into resembling or, better yet, becoming the person they're portraying, the better.

In the political dramedy "Vice," we get a combo platter of such performances. On the one hand, few will believe that Steve Carrel is Donald Rumsfeld, Tyler Perry is Colin Powell or that Sam Rockwell makes for a completely believable George W. Bush. All get the various mannerisms and some vocal intonations close enough so that there's no confusion who they're playing, but you never once forget you're watching an actor at work.

Christian Bale, on the other hand, so completely transforms and disappears into his portrayal of Dick Cheney, that you quickly believe you're witnessing the real person and forget you're watching an actor at the top of his game, and one most deserving of winning the Oscar this year for Best Actor.

Having reportedly gained around forty pounds and with the right masterful touches from the makeup artists and hair stylists, Bale -- who otherwise looks and sounds nothing like the 46th Vice President -- gets every aspect of Cheney (the speech pattern, the way he moves and otherwise holds his body and so on) so spot on that it's nothing short of an amazing and completely believable transformation.

Of course, such a brilliant impression means nothing if the film in which it appears isn't any good, so the question that remains is whether the rest of the movie matches the mastery on hand from the lead actor. Well, some of that will depend on where you fall in terms of political leanings as liberals are far more likely to be entertained by the often scathing portrayals of Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, and others than their conservative counterparts who could view this as nothing more than a political hit job.

Being an independent voter myself who's voted for candidates on both sides of the aisle, I can certainly recognize and understand both views. And I can also see that writer/director Adam McKay is somewhat reusing the formula that made his 2015 look at the 2008 financial meltdown crisis, "The Big Short," so unique and entertaining but also eye-opening and frightening.

Among other things, that's again using a narrator -- this time Jesse Plemons -- to tell the tale and occasionally stop to explain things for those of us who aren't politically savvy enough to understand terms such as "absolute executive authority" or "unitary executive theory," while also identifying historical figures, their motivations and such. There's also a fake-out ending of the movie (complete with a credit roll) and even one moment where Cheney and his wife (Amy Adams) have a discussion in bed using nothing but Shakespearean style dialogue.

Yet, for all of the goofy (and sometimes undeniably funny) bits, McKay takes shot after shot at Cheney and company to the point that it begins to leave satire and simply become a scathing attack (some of which, granted, is justified).

The film also tries to cover too much time, ground and material, and ends up feeling rather rushed in the third act and in pushing A to Z connections (such as Cheney and company's action leading to a brief view of a miscellaneous couple that have overdosed in their car to a focus group where two members get into a fight over President Trump) that feel forced and shoehorned into the proceedings.

The result is something of a messy 130-some minutes of satire, political commentary and finger-pointing. But enough of it works and Bale's transformation is so brilliant and, at most times, so completely believable that alone makes the film worth seeing. Likely to play far better among blue voters than red, "Vice" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed November 27, 2018 / Posted December 25, 2018


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