Veep – the world’s ultimate understudy role. No real power per se, but if something were to happen to the President of the United States, you are expected to jump in and immediately assume the position as one of the world’s most powerful leaders.
The irony is, of course, that you’ll probably just be a foot note in history, and no-one will remember your name.
That’s not quite how Dick Cheney saw it. Where many saw holding the position as somewhat of a poisoned chalice, Cheney saw it as an opportunity. It’s this savvy determination that’s the focus of writer and director Adam McKay’s latest film.
As a young man, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) lacked direction, as did his ability to drive in a straight line, after receiving a number of DWI’s in his early twenties. His life turned around however, when he married his childhood sweetheart Lynne (Amy Adams).
She wanted more for the pair of them, and gave Dick the encouragement and drive to aim high.
His political life began in 1969, when he became assistant to Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), economics advisor to the President.
Slowly but surely, he climbs the political ladder, managing to impress all the right people on the way up. When George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) decides he wants to run for president, he invites Cheney to join him on his ticket to be his Vice President. Cheney, fully aware of how inconsequential the position is, manages to talk his way into a meaningless job with a most powerful of packages.
With a career mostly consisting of being Will Ferrell’s bitch – directing and co-writing a number of his films, including Step Brothers, The Other Guys and the Anchorman flicks – McKay showed a different side to his work with 2016’s The Big Short, which he was rewarded with an Oscar for, picking up Best Adapted Screenplay.
Once again he dips his toe in murky social political waters to good effect.
Bale, as is now expected of this Stretch Armstrong of acting, pulls out all the stops – and waistline - to mould himself into a version of Cheney. With Cheney possibly not being that recognisable outside of the US, audiences could be confused into thinking they’re watching a biopic of Chevy Chase, such is the physical similarity.
Of course Bale hits it out of the park, but the problem is, Cheney isn’t a terribly exciting character. He had a penchant for heart attacks it seems, but even then didn’t overly emote. McKay cleverly works around this, by having many of his supporting cast, namely Adams, Carell and in particular Rockwell, do a lot of the necessary heavy lifting to inject personality.
Another way McKay glosses over the banality of the main character is by pimping up the look and feel of the film. Instead of a dry retelling - a la Lincoln - McKay’s direction is a heady mix of Saturday Night Live sketch, and Cheney for Dummies. In all, he totally deserves his 2019 Oscar Best Director nomination.
McKay proves once again that he doesn’t always have to be Ferrell’s bitch – or vice for that matter - with what is a sharp and absorbing feature. It’s just a shame that the main Vice man himself couldn’t have been that bit more engaging.