Christian Bale is amorphous. He is gaunt, full maned, overweight, and balding, and although he might argue that that these traits don’t comprise him, they comprise the role in which he plays. At times he is healthy, “normal” Christian Bale, the “sex icon” Christian Bale. But often he is the aforementioned qualities, sometimes combined, and this is what makes him simply the “icon” Christian Bale.
Dick Cheney served as Vice President under George W. Bush from 2000 to 2008; essentially the first eight years of my life. Those that I know who are old enough to remember the Vice Presidency of Cheney—and the repercussions of said Vice Presidency—could hardly tell the difference between the VP and Bale in the movie Vice. Bale embodied the Wyoming native; he gained forty pounds for the role, and the authenticity of his look was enhanced by rounds of prosthetics. His words were slow and his thoughts drawn out like Cheney’s, his mannerisms like Cheney’s and Cheney’s alone. As someone who does not remember his Vice Presidency, the image of Bale embodying Cheney enters my mind before an actual image of Cheney.
It seems all too classic that Christian Bale, known for his intense method acting, would take on a role that required extreme alteration to his physical appearance. But it’s not just Bale that seems to truly become his character in Adam McKay’s biographical comedy-drama, Vice; Amy Adams plays an equally sickeningly power-driven (and grossly homophobic) Lynne Cheney, Sam Rockwell serves as a pitifully comical George W. Bush, and Steve Carell returns to a more abrasive, humorous role as Donald Rumsfeld (an economic advisor of Richard Nixon and Secretary of Defense under Bush Jr.) following the success of Beautiful Boy. All four are Academy Award nominees, and Bale, Adams, and Rockwell are all winners.
Vice received the most nominations of any film at the 76th Golden Globes awards ceremony. Bale won the category of “Best Actor: Motion Picture Musical or Comedy” for his intense portrayal of Dick Cheney. If there’s one thing that Vice drills into its audience, it’s that Dick Cheney was nothing if not intense, power-driven, and sick.
I am ashamed of how little I knew about Cheney before sitting down to watch Vice. Director Adam McKay wants to be clear that it is imperative to know the repercussions of Cheney’s Vice Presidency, the lives that were drastically changed because of it. He also makes it clear that even though so many lives were radically altered by Cheney’s decision-making—his hunger for power—not nearly enough people know that this is the case.
I left the theater sick to my stomach, in equal parts because of the gravity of his actions and my lack of knowledge of these actions. He created monsters, destroying some of the most basic principles of democracy for his own personal power plays. According to Vice, “enhanced interrogation techniques” (i.e. torture), including the Geneva Convention violating treatment of (many wrongly imprisoned) detainees of Guantanamo Bay, could be described roughly as a passion project of Cheney’s. When I read further on the subject, this assessment was confirmed. The Iraq War? Cheney. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant? Cheney too. He took a position that, as Cheney describes in the film, consists mostly of “waiting around for the President to die,” and became the most powerful Vice President in the history of the United States.
The film is unendingly witty and brilliant, and this is only confirmed by how well it has fared early on in awards season. Vice is narrated by a fictional character who shares a vital connection to our antagonist, but it is not clear what that connection is until the end. The credits for the film roll twice—if you want to understand what I mean by this, go see the film. Condoleezza Rice shakes her head in disapproval in almost every scene she is in. Cheney is humanized briefly, when he shows no hesitation in accepting his daughter, Mary, when she comes out as lesbian to him and Lynne. But then he screws her over. Mostly, the characters in this film look really, really bad.
McKay wants you to hate Dick Cheney. He wants you to think that George W. Bush was a total idiot, a pawn of his Vice. It is important to understand that this is the angle the film takes; one of education, but also one of satire and subjectivity. It is not an objective account of the Bush-Cheney Presidency, but it one of many truths, comedy, and importance.