Christian Bale delivers one of his most transformative roles as former Vice President Dick Cheney, who advised George Bush after 9/11 and during the Iraq war, thus enriching his own firm of Halliburton.
Director Adam McKay takes a similar route to his financial disaster satire The Big Short, mixing biopic with flashy visual cut-aways, to-camera monologues, zippy montages, jokey skits and serious-minded satire.
Trouble is, everyone here’s a monster – Cheney, Mrs Cheney (the ever-excellent Amy Adams, giving it the full Lady Macbeth), Steve Carell’s Donald Rumsfield, everyone. Sam Rockwell brightens the picture every time he pops up as George Bush (one of those roles that gets an Oscar nomination in just a few minutes – I’ll have to find out the official screen time), but you stop laughing pretty quickly.
This lanky-looking detailing of a machiavellian power grab at the very top of world politics is outrageous and yet the film doesn’t burn with ire. While obviously trying to skewer its subjects, the fine actors on display are getting under their character’s skins and making them chillingly human. It all looks like it should be fun, but I felt depressed, deadened, assaulted and insulted. These are powerful effects and probably what McKay intended, but that doesn’t make the viewing experience any the more pleasant or, for me, desirable.
What’s that advert say about gambling: when the fun stops, stop? By that logic, I should have left his after 30 minutes.
Bale thanked Satan in his Globes acceptance speech and you can see the devil in his Cheney, whispering, cajoling, plotting. Yet for all that, I didn’t understand the man any more than what little I knew of him before (ok, I didn’t know his daughter was a lesbian) and I don’t know why I should watch a dress-up dramatic movie about him. Like in The Big Short, I felt the movie was laughing at me, just another one of the suckers getting turned over, getting duped by these evil mo-fos.
And, if there’s a point to delving back into the politics of the early part of this century, it’s probably to show how we got to where we are now, with an elitist Brexit and a Trump frat pack. Well it’s not funny and none of these films lands a blow that’s likely to hurt any of the bastards it’s supposed to be lampooning. Indeed, they’re most likely to watch this film, lean back with a fat cigar and smile like lizards in the sun.