In the week before the 91st Academy Awards are handed out, Tom Beasley takes a look at each Best Picture nominee and its chances of Oscars victory. Finally, it’s Christian Bale’s transformative take on Dick Cheney in Vice…
Adam McKay made the pivot to serious filmmaking a few years ago when he looked under the bonnet of the financial crisis with The Big Short. He’s back in the arena of slick, villainous men with power again for Vice, in which he tells the story of Dick Cheney and how he was able to turn the role of vice president into a conduit to force his political will on the world. Powered by Christian Bale’s extraordinary weight gain and an impressive make-up job, it’s a performance-driven movie with plenty to say about America today.
Let’s take a look…
What’s this all about? And is it any good?
If you saw The Big Short, then you’re pretty much hip to the visual style of Vice. It’s a music video edited odyssey through the life and career of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), from his early career in the White House under mentor Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) to his time as the notorious vice president to George W Bush (Sam Rockwell). There’s also focus on his marriage to Lynne (Amy Adams) and various controversies within his family.
Your mileage on Vice largely depends on how you felt about The Big Short. If you enjoyed the bonkers editing and unusual storytelling tics of that film, you’ll likely be just as satisfied by this one. Whereas if, like me, you thought that other film to be unbearably smug, Vice is like listening to a politics lecture delivered by one of those people who spends all of their time on Twitter shouting about the Ghostbusters reboot and whining about ‘SJWs’.
Christian Bale’s performance, though, is absolutely terrific. He disappears into the role of Cheney, with his physical transformation only part of why it works so well. His Cheney is a methodical speaker, pausing to take a breath before every sentence, as if choosing every word carefully. Given the level of subtlety from Bale, it’s disappointing that McKay is unable to rein himself in and often cuts away to on-the-nose symbolism of lions taking down prey and towers of teacups wobbling. Either he’s stupid, or he thinks his audience is.
Overall, the important points that Vice makes about power and politics are completely obscured by the bizarre filmmaking deployed to make those points. It’s a movie that trips over its own feet repeatedly and is a baffling inclusion on the Best Picture shortlist.
Has it had a good season?
It has been a bit of a disappointment. For a while, it looked as if the Best Actor race was going to be a straight fight between Bale and Rami Malek’s work as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. Honours were shared at the Golden Globes thanks to the drama/comedy category split, but Malek has since pulled away and looks like a near certainty for the Oscar. Amy Adams, who looked like a potential Best Supporting Actress contender, has also fallen away from the race.
There has been a little bit of success for Vice in editing awards, with a BAFTA victory in that category one of its biggest triumphs. Hank Corwin, best known for his work with Oliver Stone in the 1990s, is a widely liked editor and he could certainly replicate that win at the Oscars, in what might be Vice‘s only shot at glory.
Can it win Best Picture?
Not a chance. Vice is one of those weird movies that gets into the Best Picture shortlist as a result of a handful of widely nominated acting roles. It’s like Darkest Hour getting a Best Picture nod last year when it wouldn’t have come close without Gary Oldman’s inevitable march to the Best Actor gong. Given the fact its cast is the most awards-worthy thing about Vice, missing out on the SAG Best Ensemble prize is a critical dent to its chances.
Bale isn’t completely out of the Best Actor race yet and there’s half a chance for Amy Adams in the Best Supporting Actress category but, when it comes to Best Picture, no one should be putting their money on Cheney.
To read the previous articles in this series, click here.
The 91st Academy Awards will air live from the Dolby Theater tonight.
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.