Damn you, Adam McKay! You have done it again. You have spoiled another Oscar season with a secretive, buzzed about project of yours, a late entry into the race. I wanted to hate this movie as I hate its subject. But I can’t. It’s too engaging. The performances are too good. The script is too innovative. This movie got under my skin. It’s worth a second viewing. For all the ways the movie may feel one-sided, Dick Cheney gets a monologue defending his actions at the end of the movie that I’m still mulling over. I can’t quite shake it.
Christian Bale is mostly unrecognizable as Dick Cheney. His eyes occasionally give him away though. Bale portrays Cheney as a young man all the way up until present day. It would be easy to make Cheney a one-note character, to turn the film into an extended SNL sketch. Instead, he is portrayed as a family man with a deep love for his wife and daughters. There is even a point in the film where, if it ended there, we would like the Cheneys and their American success story.
The movie jumps around in time somewhat. It's an unconventional biopic in the spirit of the underrated Man on the Moon. Mckay fills the film with plenty of fun tricks similar to The Big Short: a mysterious narrator, a premature ending, breaking the fourth wall, and a random bit of Shakespeare.
Sam Rockwell is getting a lot of attention for his dead-on portrayal of George W. Bush, including a Golden Globes nomination. However, the real secret weapon of the film is Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. Carell plays Rumsfeld as an amoral, charismatic snake in the grass who mentors Cheney. He has more screen time than the trailer leads you to believe, even more screen time than Rockwell. Two of my biggest laughs of the year came from this damn movie, and one of them was purely from Carell. Between this and The Big Short, I am now nearly convinced it will be Mckay that will lead Carell to his eventual Oscar win.
Amy Adams is good as a Lady Macbeth type. Her best scene is early in the movie when she explains that she can’t have power as a woman and must live vicariously through Dick (while harping on him to get his act together). However, I hope this isn’t the role she wins the Oscar for. With far better work behind her and ahead of her, I hope the Academy doesn’t give int to the “It’s time” narrative. This role simply isn’t Junebug worthy in my book.
This movie is a contender. It hits you in the gut. It rips away one of Cheney's few redeeming qualities in the final act. No one gets off easy, even the audience, who is left with hard questions to consider.
Pairs well with: The Big Short (McKay’s previous fourth-wall-breaking picture), The Front Runner (another movie about events that shaped our current political landscape), or Man on the Moon (another dark comedy biopic, this one about Andy Kaufman and starring Jim Carrey)