Vice Cert: 15, 2hrs 12mins
Christian Bale has already won a Golden Globe for his performance as Dick Cheney in Vice, and picked up both Bafta and Oscar nominations for his efforts too, the latter being just one of an impressive eight nominations the film amassed last week.
And it doesn’t take long to see why Bale is being so fêted – the transformation of this normally slim 44-year-old British actor into the balding, seriously overweight, 60-something former American Vice President is simply astonishing.
Yes, it owes a lot to padding, prosthetics and weight gain – Bale prides himself on his ability to both gain and lose weight for roles and reportedly ate a ‘lot of pies’ to add the three stone necessary to convincingly play Cheney. And there’s an obvious debt to hair and make-up too.
Christian Bale’s transformation into former US Vice President Dick Cheney is simply astonishing and he receives classy support from the likes of Sam Rockwell (above with Bale)
But the underlying performance – a subtle and brilliantly researched blend of voice, mannerisms, posture and gait – shines right through. For once, it is no exaggeration to say that Bale disappears completely into the part he is playing.
But, sadly, that’s not going to be anything like enough as far as mainstream British audiences are concerned, who are likely to find themselves mystified by how this Adam McKay-directed picture ever found itself nominated for a Golden Globe in the ‘musical or comedy’ category.
McKay may have directed the Ron Burgundy films and have Will Ferrell among his executive producers, but for British audiences, a film that has Cheney and former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld as two of its main characters, the intended subversive laughs are few and far between.
In short, this is one of those films that’s been made ‘over there’ that, Bafta voters apart, just isn’t going to go down very well ‘over here’. Then again, American audiences probably wouldn’t be very interested if anyone ever makes a British feature film about Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
Despite this fine cast – with Amy Adams and Steve Carrell (above with Bale) also on good form, Adam McKay’s very American film is unlikely to find many fans on this side of the Atlantic
Vice, you see, tells the American side of that story, portraying Cheney as both the Machiavellian power behind George W Bush’s presidential throne and a man determined to go to war with someone as retribution for 9/11, just not over-picky about with whom.
Put like that it sounds quite interesting, doubly so when the obvious parallels with the Trump era of today become apparent.
But McKay takes such a long run at it, beginning his story way back in 1963, when Cheney was little more than a drunken university drop-out, and gets bogged down in Republican party history and American constitutional law along the very long way. If you ever wondered what ‘unitary executive theory’ was, now is your chance to find out. Yes, I found I could contain my excitement too.
McKay, who worked with Bale on The Big Short, which succeeded in turning another complex topic – the financial crisis – into a rather good film, is clearly aware of the dryness of his subject and employs every creative and would-be comedic trick he can think of to leaven things.
IT’S A FACT
Cheney smoked three packets of cigarettes a day for 20 years and has suffered five heart attacks including his first one aged only 37.
There’s an unknown sardonic narrator (to be fair, discovering who he is provides a brilliant late twist), sarcastic captions, speeches to camera, spoof Shakespeare, gratuitous f-words and at one point an alternate ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ ending that comes complete with its own set of closing credits. I glanced at my watch and almost groaned when I discovered the film, with its obvious echoes of Michael Moore, still had more than an hour to go. Tedium definitely sets in.
Bale’s wonderful central performance is undeniably surrounded by some classy supporting turns. Amy Adams impresses as Cheney’s equally ruthless and ambitious wife, Lynne, while Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell provide equal measures of amusement and alarm as the trigger-happy Rumsfeld and the easily manipulated George W Bush. Adams and Rockwell both got Oscar nominations last week, although, if they set the standard, how Carell missed out beats me.
I’m sure those with a serious interest in the wielding of political power will find more to admire here, but I’m not uninterested in such things and it didn’t work for me. Nevertheless, I have no problem at all wishing Bale every success come awards night. All those pies should not be in vain.
ALSO OUT NOW
The Mule (15)
Clint Eastwood’s new film arrives here untroubled by major award nominations but having taken almost £77 million at the American box office. And for once the American cinema-going public are not wrong: The Mule is both surprisingly watchable and touchingly good, with Eastwood – who directs and stars – on impressive form, both in front of and behind the camera.
At heart, this is a ‘county lines’ story, albeit with the action unfolding in America and with a Mexican drug cartel not using young teenagers to transport their product but a 90-year-old horticulturalist who has fallen on hard times.
After all, who would suspect someone like frail-looking Earl Stone (Eastwood), who has been put out of business by the internet and now has little more to his name than a clean driving licence and a rusty pick-up?
Aged 88, Clint Eastwood (above with Alan Heckner) is still going strong, and his latest film, The Mule, sees him shine both in front of and behind the camera
Perfect, thinks the man from the cartel. But Earl, a grizzled veteran of the Korean War and a man who knows he has made plenty of mistakes, is not a man to blink when someone shoves a gun under his nose.
Don’t expect another Gran Torino: it’s subtler, gentler and a little more sentimental than that. But if you enjoyed Robert Redford’s The Old Man & The Gun, you should enjoy this too.
Second Act (12A)
Remember Working Girl with Melanie Griffith? Well, Second Act is a bit like that only this time with Jennifer Lopez playing the under-appreciated saleswoman from Queens whose career has always been held back by her lack of a college education.
Until one fateful evening when her best friend’s internet-savvy son posts a fake CV online and she instantly lands a job as a product development consultant at a glitzy Manhattan cosmetics company.
There’s no doubts she has the ‘street smarts’ to do the job, but what happens if and when her lies are found out?
Second Act breaks no new ground , but Jennifer Lopez (above) plays the role of ‘street smart’ underachiever well and gets particularly effective support from Leah Remini as her best friend
Aimed clearly at a whooping ‘you go, girl’ kind of crowd, it’s a formulaic comedy that breaks no new ground at all.
But Lopez, who spends most of the film with her cleavage set on stun, is good at this sort of thing and gets particularly effective support from both her underwiring and from Leah Remini, playing her splendidly foul-mouthed best friend. Best of all, nobody sings Lady In Red.
Every awards season, there’s always one would-be hopeful that comes badly unstuck and this year, I am pleased to say, it’s this one, with Nicole Kidman all too clearly hoping that a spot of ‘uglying up’ would do for her awards cabinet what Monster once did for Charlize Theron.
Well it won’t, with Kidman dismayingly unconvincing as a hard-drinking and physically wrecked Los Angeles police detective who nobody likes and nobody wants to work with but who seems to know a lot about someone called Silas. Look out for a lot of overacting and a really annoying twist.
Love Sonia (18)
Set mainly in modern-day India and played out predominantly in subtitled Hindi, this is a single-issue film about international sex trafficking. It’s not an enjoyable watch but it’s well made, authentic-feeling and very powerful thanks to fine performances from a cast led by Mrunal Thakur, as Sonia, the naive country girl who becomes the property of a ruthless Mumbai brothel owner, and a strong supporting cast that includes Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto.