Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams & Steve Carell
Review Author: Shaun
In recent years filmmaker, Adam McKay has moved from upbeat comedies hits like ‘Anchorman’, ‘Step Brothers’ & ‘The Other Guys’ towards a more political satire starting with his searing look at the financial mortgage crisis with ‘The Big Short’, which he won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. With that, he now turns his directing attention to the power dynamics within the Bush-Cheney administration, while focusing on key moments in Cheney’s life through the use of flashbacks. Being from Ireland, I’m aware to some of American politics and system’s but a lot had to be looked up again once I’d finished watching the film, but it was mostly an outsider looking in.
Christian Bale takes on the lead role of Dick Cheney. When this was announced, I had my doubts however barely two minutes into the film before all doubts are assuaged, yet again we’re reminded of how Bale is one of the most talented and fascinating actors in cinematic history. With the weight gain, the hair, the growling voice, the asymmetrical smirk, Bale transforms into Cheney on screen which allows us to focus on the manner in which filmmaker McKay unfolds the events, even if we were blissfully unaware of the backstory.
The first flash-back see’s Cheney in Wyoming as a drunk and somewhat rowdy youngster. The film then bounces the timeline to key events such as Cheney’s time as Donald Rumsfeld’s (Steve Carell) intern/lackey and the 1970’s. Cheney’s wife Lynne (played by Amy Adams) is portrayed as more ambitious than her husband and in one searing scene, yanks a young Cheney out of his funk and onto the upwardly mobile track.
The film picks up once George HW Bush is elected and Cheney is brought back to D.C. as Secretary of Defense. From this point on, his near subversive quest for power is in overdrive. There are many quotes cautioning to ‘beware the quiet man’, and most fit the Cheney on display here. You’ve likely seen in the trailer where George W Bush (Sam Rockwell) chows on BBQ as he offers the VP job to Cheney. Surprisingly, this is one of only two scenes where McKay makes Bush look like a buffoon. If you haven’t figured it out by now, it should be clear that McKay is not one to give the benefit of the doubt, his mission is to highlight all ludicrous actions of America’s leaders during this time.
September 11, 2001, brings on a very interesting segment when there is an emergency White House evacuation, and Cheney is whisked into a secure room and appears to overstep his authority, at least that’s how it appears to everyone other than Cheney. He is described as having power “like a ghost”, and it’s this scene and the follow-up discussions about Afghanistan, that McKay believes best exemplifies Cheney’s lust for power, and how ‘right and wrong’ are secondary to him.
Actual clips of Nixon, Reagan, Bin Laden, Carter, and Obama are dropped into segments providing a quasi-documentary feel at times. Cheney’s heart issues, the political quandary resulting from his daughter coming out as gay, and the involvement of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and the Koch brothers all play a role here, as does the Unitary Executive Theory and the legal specifics that cause much debate. Also, on display is some of the least complimentary eyeglass fashion across 3 decades.
Overall McKay is to be applauded for a most entertaining look at how our government officials can manipulate policy and public statements and may even stoop to focus groups in better understanding the views of American people. Editor Hank Corwin is a big part of maintaining the quick pace of the film, and the use of fishing as a metaphor somehow works. “America” from West Side Story is a fitting song to end the clever, funny and thought-provoking film and our look at the rare politician who amassed power while mostly avoiding the publicity that other politicians seek. Watch at your own risk – depending on your politics especially if you’re like me and live outside of these United States.
3.5 / 5 Osama Bin Laden’s