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Film review: Vice is an unmissable political epic

Film & TV

Christian Bale and Amy Adams deliver virtuoso performances as political power couple Dick and Lynne Cheney in Adam McKay’s audacious political satire about the most powerful and enigmatic vice-president in American history.

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Adam McKay, known for his biting political analysis and dark humour in films such as The Big Short, has hybridised the genres of political satire and bio-pic, creating a dark and mischievous lovechild of a film.

His merciless analysis of Cheney’s path to power reveals the machinations of one of the most secretive and effective powerbrokers in American political history, with the story unfolding in a way that also explains a great deal about contemporary politics and how the US has ended up with its current administration.

Christian Bale’s brilliant transformation into the lumpen Dick Cheney is worth the ticket price alone. Bale nails every idiosyncratic tick and smirk as he depicts Cheney’s path from hard-partying electrical linesman into the man pulling all the strings behind the presidency of George W Bush.

McKay lays much of Cheney’s success at the feet of his wife, Lynne, played superbly by Amy Adams. After she gives the drunken young Cheney a severe chastening, we see him take his first steps in the corridors of power as a congressional intern in the late 1960s.

After joining the staff of Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) in Nixon’s White House, Cheney is shown observing the power and influence at work around him.

Cheney ascends through the political ranks but he doesn’t transform into the ultimate cards-to-the-chest powerbroker until faced with the prospect of joining George W Bush’s campaign for president as the potential vice-president.

McKay portrays this meeting in which Cheney masterfully manipulates the oblivious Bush (Sam Rockwell) as the critical moment in which his Machiavellian super-power reached its full potential. Cheney’s ability to spot opportunity and seize it before those around him were any the wiser was the secret to how a drunken brawler became the most powerful man in the western world.

On the face of it, the journey from Wyoming college drop-out to vice-president doesn’t sound like an unmissable political epic yet Vice manages to handle an enormous amount of material with biting satire that in no way sacrifices its commitment to historical accuracy.

Political conservatives may feel the film leans to the left, yet I defy any viewer to remain unimpressed by the casting and performances.  This is a deeply satirical and, in places, polemical biography grounded in historical fact – a serious comedy that indulges McKay’s need to analyse political history and throw light on how and why 21st-century American politics has ended up in its current state.

Vice opens in cinemas on Boxing Day.

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