- Demetrios Matheou
- 21 January 2019
Christian Bale is Dick Cheney in Adam McKay's irreverent biopic about the power behind the throne
In 2015, Adam McKay's The Big Short laid bare the greed and corruption that caused the financial crisis – and dared to be funny about it. Now McKay turns the same sensibility towards the greed and corruption within American politics. And the comedy becomes even darker.
The title has a piquant double meaning, given that the subject is former US vice president Dick Cheney, widely believed to have been the architect of all that was most rotten about the presidency of George W Bush, not least the Iraq War. With another compelling, shape-shifting performance by Christian Bale as Cheney, and scintillating supporting turns by Amy Adams, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, this is a super-smart, radical and disconcerting history lesson.
The arc of the film is Cheney's unlikely rise, from lowly electrical worker in Wyoming in the early 60s to de facto president in the noughties. As a young drunken loser, he's whipped into shape by his ambitious wife Lynne (Adams), who will remain by his side as he becomes a congressional intern, is taken under the wing of Donald Rumsfeld (Carell), and moves through the Washington ranks.
In a film that's endlessly cheeky and inventive, McKay's freestyle method offers everything from pillow talk written in iambic pentameter (the Cheneys conspiring with all the malevolence of the Macbeths) and a restaurant scene in which the 'specials' read as a menu of torture techniques, to a focus group that discusses the film's own liberal bias.
It's at its funniest when Bale's cunning Cheney manipulates Rockwell's deliciously gormless Bush. 'I'll take the mundane things,' he suggests for his role as VP: 'the military… energy… and foreign policy.' The film illustrates what can be achieved by one man through ambition, guile and timing, but also charts the growing influence of a whole class of super-rich in the US, who sought power merely to protect their financial interests – something which puts the present incumbent of the White House into a chilling context.
General release from Fri 25 Jan.