Who could have imagined a vice president having the kind of power that Dick Cheney did under George W. Bush? While it’s the subject of the new film, Vice, in this case truth is much stranger than fiction, it’s just that the film version — starring Christian Bale in the role — is a lot funnier than anything we went through at the time.
Here’s how Annapurna Pictures describes the film from director Adam McKay: “Spanning a half-century, Cheney’s (Christian Bale) complex journey from rural Wyoming electrical worker to de facto President of the United States is a darkly comic and often unsettling inside look at the use and misuse of institutional power. In McKay’s capable hands, the dichotomy between Cheney, the dedicated family man and political puppet master, is related with intimacy, wit and narrative daring. Guided by his formidable and unfailingly loyal wife, Lynne (Amy Adams) and mentored by the brusque and blustery Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), Cheney insinuated himself into the Washington D.C. fabric beginning with the Nixon administration, becoming White House Chief of Staff under Gerald Ford, and after five terms in Congress, Secretary of Defense for George H.W. Bush.
“In 2000, he left his position as C.E.O. of Halliburton to run as Vice President to George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) with the implicit understanding that he would exercise almost unchecked control, a co-president in all but name. Cheney’s cunning and furtive political maneuvering have altered the American political landscape in ways that will continue to reverberate for decades to come. But it is clear there is more than one Dick Cheney, a man whose reputation in the public Spector belies his private life and obvious devotion to his family.”
On the surface, the idea of actor Christian Bale taking on the real-life role of the former Vice President of the United States seems absolutely nuts — and this despite the fact we’ve seen the actor transform himself for a number of other roles, among them as Batman in the Dark Knight Trilogy, become emaciated-looking for The Machinist, the balding, paunched Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle, and the black panther Bagheera in Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (okay, we’ll give you he had CG help on that one).
“No one ever doubted Christian’s ability to play the part,” producer Dede Gardner says matter of factly. “As we’ve seen before, his ability to transform and his commitment to a role is unrivaled. We knew it would be a tremendous amount of work and all we wanted was for him to say yes.”
Enthuses Christian as to why he did so, “The script expanded well beyond what I ever expected. It was poignant, not just in a political way but in a very personal way. It touched on what it is to be a person, to be part of a family, part of a nation. And it was bloody funny.”
While work on designing the look for Cheney was going on, Christian was attempting to discover the true essence of the man, much of which came from watching virtually every video clip he could and reading every interview he could find. Says executive producer Jeff Waxman, “He wanted to know everything about Cheney and to absorb it all. He also met with a nutritionist so he could gain the weight in a healthy manner. He had a dialect coach, a movement coach. Anything that he could do to help him transform into Dick Cheney — the way he walked, the way he talked and moved. Then the day we started shooting, he’d become that character. You literally thought Cheney was standing there in front of you.”
Christian feels that the final film is more than he imagined it would be at the outset (and the critical acclaim seems to agree). “It’s fascinating, and not just from the point of view of the shadowy figure of Dick Cheney who came to acquire as much power as any American has ever had,” he points out. “It holds up a mirror to each and every one of us on what we might do if we had such power. It forces us to look at who we are as a person, as a family man, and as a nation as well.”
Vice starts playing in theaters on Christmas Day.