I’m having a heart attack, you idiot.
Man, oh, man, I hated this movie. Let’s just get that out of the way. I hate Dick Cheney as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is Adam McKay apparently), but what a disaster of a movie. I loved The Big Short and there’s potential in the story of Dick Cheney certainly for McKay to make a similar film to that one, a film with a lot of humor that ends up being really dark. But apparently all the acclaim for The Big Short made McKay just double down on the superficial wackiness and turns out The Big Short had it right and doing it even crazier just doesn’t work. McKay’s directorial style here can best be described as . . . well, wait, how can it be described? It’s just a kind of fling everything at the wall and see what sticks. Let’s just add in a lot of unnecessary freeze frames and zooms and do weird cuts and keep referencing that you’re a movie (meta!) and just why not constantly be doing something weird? There’s a scene where Cheney is deciding whether or not to accept the offer to be Bush’s running mate and Bale is just playing it beautifully (more on Bale later) as this internal struggle where he’s honestly not sure what to do and you can just see it on his face even though he’s also being really minimal. And then the narrator (yes, there’s a narrator; it’s stupid, don’t even ask) muses that Cheney wasn’t one given to great Shakespearean speeches. We then smash cut to Cheney giving a lengthy Shakespearean speech. Yeah, that’s the way of this film: self-referential, stupid and constantly undercutting the moments that do work.
Most of which are courtesy of Bale who is genuinely terrific in the role. It takes a really good performer to cut through all the nonsense McKay is doing with this movie; even Amy Adams doesn’t really register. The fact that Bale is able to make Cheney come to life is more than just a mark of a great impersonation; he imbues him with emotion and an interior life, particularly in the scenes dealing with his lesbian daughter. That plot thread is far and away the best thing in this movie, mainly because it’s the place where the movie allows Cheney to feel like a real person, like an actual human instead of just a cartoonish villain. That’s the interesting thing, artistically speaking, about men like Cheney, that, at the end of the day, for all the monstrous things they do, they are still people, they’re still humans. The scenes revolving around his daughter are the perfect example of the way men do monstrous things and yet retain some modicum of a conscience in some small personal area and it feels like, for all the evil things Cheney does in the movie, that the moment when he has to essentially choose between his two daughters is the moment when his soul is truly in the balance and Bale absolutely nails the devastation and the guilt of those scenes. Anyway, with a central performance as strong as Bale’s, there’s a good movie in here and you see flashes of it, but on the whole, it’s chaotic to the point of flailing desperation and McKay shows no real interest in striking a tone or even exploring character. He’s just all about being as cute and clever as he can and it’s often cringe-inducingly bad. Bale’s performance is a thing of wonder; the rest of the movie will just make you wonder what McKay was thinking. 2 stars.
tl;dr – Bale’s astoundingly great lead performance can’t save this sloppy, incoherent, flailing disaster of a movie; bad as Cheney is, he deserved a better movie than this. 2 stars.