(director/writer: Adam McKay; cinematographer: Greig Fraser; editor: Hank Corwin; music: Nicholas Britell; cast: Christian Bale (Dick Cheyney), Amy Adams (Lynne Cheyney), Steve Carell (Donald Rumsfeld), Sam Rockwell (George W. Bush), Tyler Perry (Colin Powell), Allison Pill (Mary Cheney), Lily Rabe (Liz Cheyney), Jesse Plemons (Narrator), Bill Camp (Gerald Ford), LisaGay Hamilton (Condoleezza Rice), Adam Bartley (Frank Luntz), Justin Kirk (Scooter Libby), Kirk Bovil (Henry Kissinger), Joseph Beck (Karl Rove), Don McManus (Dave Addington), Kyle S. More (Roger Ailes), Bill Pullman (Nelson Rockefeller), Aidan Gail (12-year-old Cheney); Runtime: 132; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Brad Pitt/Dede Gardner/Jeremy Kleiner/Will Ferrell/Adam McKa/Kevin Messick; Annapurna Pictures; 2018)
“Devilishly comical and at other times too grim to not leave you depressed.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer-director Adam McKay (“The Big Short”/”Step Brothers”) follows around the toad-like Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) in his quest to be the most powerful Vice President in American history under President George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), in this polarizing, troubling and uneven biopic. Its chaotic structure, going from incident to incident without knowing how to end one and begin another, was one of its many flaws. The take on Cheney is how despicable and power hungry a monster he was, with his only humanity shown when telling his gay daughter Mary (Allison Pill) he still loves her. Later when her sister Liz (Lily Rabe) runs for the senate, Cheney sells out his daughter Mary by letting Liz rip into the idea of same-sex marriages. The film is devilishly comical and at other times too grim to not leave you depressed-a missed opportunity film that probably won’t appeal to either the left or right. The left wanting to see the asshole totally ripped and the right not happy that his reach for power, though quieter, looks a lot like how the current psycho in the Oval Office operates in a cynical and despotic way. It’s most impressive in how it gets the actor playing Cheney, Christian Bale, to completely look and act like him. An army of make-up artists using mucho latex do the job, making his head enlarged to the size of a beach ball and through the magic of prosthetics and of him putting on 45 pounds he completely passes for Cheney. Bale even gets his nasty smirk right. Cheney is depicted as the bland monster, who is shrewd and calculating. He’s the devious one who gave us Bush’s failed war in Iraq and shoved it down the country’s throat despite being totally wrong about it and too arrogant to ask for a second opinion. The film comes out at a time when these same type of Republican bad guys are enablers for the current Republican president. Looking back at Cheney through this film and at his awful crew of water-boarders, hawks and greedy oil men, can only remind us the country under President Trump is still run by monsters. Bale nails Cheyney as the 1963 Yale drop-out from Casper, Wyoming, who is given his marching orders after a DUI arrest from his strong-willed wife Lynne (Amy Adams) to stop boozing and get your life in order or else she says she will dump him. Sobering up he goes from being a lineman for the local power company to entering a Congressional Intern Program to work under the feisty outspoken reactionary Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) in the toxic Nixon administration, and after the fall of Nixon becomes the chief of staff for President Ford. In 1978, Cheyney, despite a heart attack on the campaign trail, is elected congressman from Wyoming, as his Lady Macbeth wife goes on the campaign trail for him. Next up Cheyney serves as a secretary for defense forthe late George H.W. Bush. During the Clinton presidency, he was CEO of the energy giant Halliburton. When tapped to be W.’s running mate he gets 26 million dollar severance pay from Halliburton (money they wisely spent for influence peddling), and he then talked the naive W. into giving him powers usually reserved only for the president. With the advent of Fox News for the right wing, Cheney welcomes the dirt bag Rumfeld into W.’s WH as secretary of defense and they partner to bring us the illegal and costly losing Iraq War and the bogus War on Terrorism after 9/11 to cover-up their miscalculated war. Cheney tells his former mentor to take a soft tone: “We have conservative TV and radio to do our yelling for us.” But that’s not in the irksome Rummy’s nature, as it is in Cheney’s. The political biopic of the grotesque Cheney, coming at a time we are faced with the uncertain future with the despicable Trump, is a heavy film to absorb without feeling as if we stepped on an improvised explosive device. Especially as it offers only some snarky comic relief and an A performance by the always dependable Bale, but no lessons to learn about how such evil men pervert power in a democracy and threaten to bring down the country from within. I needed more from the biopic than someone brilliantly looking and acting exactly like Cheney. I needed to see Cheney further ripped apart and not to be admired for being such a wily politician and good family man. I’m not sure what the film is trying to tell me, but I found it too simplistic. It needed a deeper and more pervasive examination of the bad dude to get me going.
REVIEWED ON 12/1/2018 GRADE: C+