Adam McKay is my new favorite writer/director. I probably could have written that in 2015 after watching his masterpiece “The Big Short,” but after viewing his latest film “Vice,” I’m absolutely sure of it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, he’s probably not in my top-10 of all-time favorite directors. Creeping up to it, maybe. However, I can’t think of two recent films I’ve enjoyed and been stimulated by more from the same director than “The Big Short and “Vice.”
Ryan Coogler’s “Creed” and “Black Panther” would probably be a distant second on that list.
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McKay, who cut his teeth directing silly but terribly funny comedies like “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004) and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2006), has proven to be one of the most inventive and daring directors with his storytelling choices of breaking the fourth wall to distill complicated background in “The Big Short” and then using satire, dark humor, an an omniscient narrator in his biopic “Vice,” which details the rise of one of the most enigmatic politicians of modern times former vice president Dick Cheney.
McKay’s script is decidedly slanted toward his liberal point of view, and like most films dealing with important subjects, it drastically oversimplifies complicated material for the sake of telling in this case a very compelling and entertaining story.
The film, while biographical, is more of a darkly comic version of the facts rather than a journalistic endeavor to lay out the truth. No kid should use the film as the basis of a book report on Cheney or the comings and goings of the Bush 43 White House, but nevertheless the movie is informative as a sort of character study of Cheney.
The film benefits greatly from Christian Bale’s outstanding impression of Cheney. After packing on more than 40 pounds for the role, Bale is almost unrecognizable under the makeup, but his acting chops are clear as he is totally convincing in the role. It’s subtle but sure performance that is always on point. Amy Adams might be even stronger as his wife Lynne Cheney, the engine that lifted her husband out of the gutter and ignited his political ambition. Adams is so good that if McKay announced a sequel to the movie focusing on Lynne, I’d reserve a ticket it now
Expect Bale and Adams to receive Oscar nominations for their performances.
Steve Carell also delivers a believable performance of Donald Rumsfeld, whom Cheney latched onto early in his career in order to learn the ropes in Washington D.C. Carell and Bale work off each other well, particularly as Rumsfeld later finds himself beholden and answering to Cheney in an administration where the vice president called all the important shots for his president George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell).
Rockwell is funny as Bush, but his portrayal borders on something that escaped from a rouge “Saturday Night Live” skit. I chuckled at Rockwell several times, but I’m not exactly sure if his take on “W” enhanced or detracted from the film.
Likewise Tyler Perry gives it a go as Bush 43’s first Secretary of State Colin Powell; however, even made up as Powell, I half expected Perry to deliver his character Madea’s signature line of “How yer doer-ring” when a shot in the Oval Office shifted to him.
I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the fictitious narrator Kurt, played by Jesse Plemons. His Texas drawl provides a calming connective tissue to the film, but don’t look too far into his role before seeing it, if you want the movie to maintain its full power.
While it would seem McKay’s intent was to castigate the duplicitous machinations of Cheney as the wizard behind the curtain of Bush 43’s White House and to make fun of the Republicans who allowed it to happen, Bale’s Cheney still somehow comes off as a slightly pitiable and somewhat admirable figure, considering where he is at as the film opens and what he accomplished along the way. It’s just the what he did and the way he did it that’s so troublesome.
That reaction probably wasn’t what McKay intended, but it is what I was left feeling at the end.
(R) 2 hr. 12 min.
Spartacus (1960) / Universal Pictures
For the month of January, Thursday is Sword and Sandals Night on Turner Classic Movies.
Biblical and mythological stories as well as ancient historical epics fit into the category, which normally features a well-muscled hero who confronts strenuous circumstances and often nefarious adversaries before finding triumph or sometimes tragedy.
The genre, which reached its height in the 1950s and 1960s, features a few of the best films ever made and more than a few stinkers.
On tap this Thursday are two of the greats in director William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur” (1959) at 7 p.m. (CT) and Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus” (1960) at 1 a.m. (CT).
Both films put the epic in epic in terms of quality and length. You’ll need at least two bowls of popcorn to get through either movie in one sitting.
“Ben-Hur” stars Charlton Heston as the chariot-driving hero, which earned him an Oscar. Kirk Douglas stars as “Spartacus,” the Thracian gladiator who leads a slave revolt agains the Romans.
Both films are excellent, but I prefer “Ben-Hur” a hair more. Interestingly enough, Douglas began to develop “Spartacus” after Wyler passed over him for the lead in “Ben-Hur.”