Writer turned director Adam McKay has turned his attention away from Wall Street (The Big Short), to a place even more dangerous, amoral and ruthless, American politics.
1963, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), a smalltime loser is driving blind drunk, weaving his way down the road and gets stopped by the police, this is not the first time
After being chewed out by his young wife to be, Lynne (Amy Adams) he decides to straighten out his life, eventually landing up as a congressional intern. Forced to choose between Democrat or Republican, he is drawn to the dark side after meeting the machiavellian Donald Rumsfield (Steve Carell).
Over time he becomes close to Rumsfield and edges closer to the seat of power, before being sidetracked by the Nixon presidency. Rumsfield and his prodigy come roaring back into town once Nixon is out, as the only people left with “political experience”.
When Carter later wins the presidency, the pair are out on their ear again and Cheney tries to run for congress. He only makes progress when his wife carries his campaign for him, owing to a heart attack and complete lack of empathy with ordinary people.
Following a torturous path ending up earning money as CEO of Halliburton (Oil Company), remember that phrasing for later, Cheney is back in power. This time he is ultimately offered the Vice Presidency to George W (Dubya) Bush (Sam Rockwell). He eventually agrees only if he can help out by being responsible for many critical government departments, all but robbing Bush of his power. Bush is seemingly happy to hand over the tricky parts of the presidency like foreign policy, defence and energy.
Cheney then runs roughshod over institutions and checks and balances, arguably starting a war with Iraq following 9-11 for reasons unconnected to any common sense other than greed. Later advocating water boarding torture and detaining people with no due cause or right of appeal, whilst defence firms and oil companies made millions.
Director/writer McKay takes no prisoners here, using every cinematic trick in the book, fake endings, humour and even a segment set to Shakespearian dialogue to fill in a scenario only those present could know what went down.
Bale is almost unrecognisable in later scenes, the make up is superb and his portrayal is highly believable, matched by Amy Adams as his wife aka Lady Macbeth.
Carrell continues to prove he is more than a comedic actor and Rockwell does a decent enough portrayal of Bush, despite looking facially very different.
Of course this is desperately cynical stuff, lightened by McKay’s almost comedic approach on occasions. Fair to say this will not be on any conservative movie wish list and can easily be dismissed as Liberal wish fantasy. The reality as we know, would have been much worse in every sense, but people will only believe so much.
Controversial when released, this all looks quite tame in the post Trump era, making some of the characters almost statesmanlike in comparison.
Unlikely to change any minds from their current partisan view but an enjoyable watch, if pitch black ironic “humour” is your thing.