Christian Bale once again undergoes an astonishing transformation for the new Dick Cheney biopic Vice, the latest from The Big Short director Adam McKay that almost entirely misses the mark. The politically charged film is knowingly divisive and meant to be controversial in its depiction of the former Vice President but for all of its empty provocation, it fails to capture its subject on the most fundamental level. After its 132-minute runtime, I learned barely anything about Dick Cheney that I didn’t already know and aside from some solid performances and a few effective bits of humor, there’s little else to recommend in this superficial satire.
We’re introduced to Cheney in his early years working as a power lineman in Wyoming, where his drunken antics impel his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) to steer him in the right direction. We then cut to his time as an intern in the Nixon White House, where Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) soon becomes his mentor and guides him to a Chief of Staff position under President Ford following the Nixon resignation. After his time in the private sector as CEO of Halliburton, Cheney re-enters the political landscape when presidential hopeful George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) implores him to be his running mate in the 2000 election.
The biggest thing keeping Vice from being at least a passable biopic is the scattershot direction from McKay, which is not only lacking in narrative clarity but is also loaded with an undeniable sense of condescension. Working again with The Big Short editor Hank Corwin, McKay packs in as many talking points as possible, even if they don’t thematically cohere with what’s happening in the narrative at any given point. Just as he delighted in breaking down the 2008 financial collapse for us in his previous film, McKay frequently freeze-frames the action to glibly lecture us on political strategy via a mystery narrator voiced by Jesse Plemons.
It’s this patronizing tone that constantly undermines any sense of comedic or dramatic momentum that is built up during the film. There are individual moments, like a fake epilogue at the movie’s midway point or an Alfred Molina cameo that depicts him as a waiter offering political euphemisms as menu items, that are clever on their own but feel at odds with the film’s more dramatic inflections. It’s obvious that McKay isn’t interested in applying any sort of nuance or insight in his depiction of Cheney’s personal journey and frankly, I’m not sure why he was so committed to writing and directing a movie about a public figure for which he seems to have so much disdain.
A greater sense of drive and purpose can be found more from the ensemble cast than McKay’s direction and that starts with Bale as the central character. Adding another committed performance to his stellar resume, Bale builds upon the prominent physical aspects of the role by also applying a pitch-perfect pragmatic diction that suits the character brilliantly. Elsewhere, Adams makes the most of her limited screen time with a believable sense of determination and Carell continues to hone his dramatic chops while implementing his undeniable charisma. Sadly, their work gets lost in the shuffle as Vice provides a toothless take on Cheney’s legacy.
Score – 2/5
Coming to theaters this weekend: A Dog’s Way Home, starring Ashley Judd and Bryce Dallas Howard, is a canine-centric tearjerker about a lost dog who makes a 400 mile journey home while making friends along the way. Replicas, starring Keanu Reeves and Alice Eve, tells the tale of desperate neuroscientist who will stop at nothing to bring his family back to life after their untimely demise in a car accident. The Upside, starring Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, follows the relationship between a paralyzed billionaire and a recently paroled convict who is hired to look after him.
2018 was an especially good year for film and fortunately, 2019 also looks to have plenty of good selections in store. Here are 20 titles to look out for this year:
Opening on January 18th is Glass, M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero sequel to Unbreakable and Split that once again pits Bruce Willis’ David Dunn against Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass while adding James McAvoy’s The Beast into the action as well.
Opening on February 8th is The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, which looks to build on the surprise success of its predecessor by bringing back Chris Pratt to not only voice Emmet but also Rex Dangervest, a parody of action heroes portrayed by Pratt in other films.
Opening on February 22nd is How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third and final installment in the series which finds a budding romance among Toothless and another dragon as our hero Hiccup looks to defend his tranquil village from an emerging enemy.
Opening on March 8th is Captain Marvel, the latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that goes back to the mid-1990s to introduce us to Brie Larson as the title character, who discovers her origins as a member of the Kree alien race and joins them in battle against the Skrulls.
Opening on March 15th is Us, a psychological horror film from Get Out writer/director Jordan Peele that centers around a family of four looking for rest and relaxation at their beach house but finding nothing of the sort as they’re stalked by a group of ominous strangers.
Opening on April 5th is Shazam!, a new superhero comedy in DC’s Extended Universe centered around a troubled teenager who stumbles upon a magical realm that grants him the power to transform into a Superman-like hero, just by saying the magic word.
Opening on April 26th is Avengers: Endgame, a direct sequel to last year’s Infinity War that will seemingly resolve the gambit presented during the previous film’s conclusion. Paul Rudd and Brie Larson will likely be added to the already massive cast.
Opening on May 17th is John Wick 3: Parabellum, another high-stakes actioner with Keanu Reeves reprising his role as the unstoppable lead character who is now on the run from a league of skilled assassins lurking all throughout the streets of New York City.
Opening on May 24th is Ad Astra, a science fiction thriller from director James Gray starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut in search for his missing father, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who disappeared twenty years earlier on a dangerous mission to Neptune.
Opening on May 31st is Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the latest in Legendary’s MonsterVerse starring Stranger Things‘ Millie Bobby Brown that pits the everyone’s favorite gigantic lizard against other classic creatures like Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah.
Opening on June 14th is Men in Black: International, a reboot of the sci-fi comedy series that re-teams Thor: Ragnarok stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson as they bust out the big guns and travel the globe in order to solve an intergalactic murder mystery.
Opening on June 21st is Toy Story 4, another sequel from Pixar that brings back Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang as they’re introduced to the new toy named Forky on a road trip. Comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele join the talented voice cast.
Opening on July 5th is Spider-Man: Far from Home, another adventure for the Marvel superhero that finds Peter Parker on a summer vacation with his friends in Europe as he joins forces with Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio to do battle with creatures known as Elementals.
Opening on July 19th is The Lion King, a photorealistic remake of the 1994 Disney film that once again follows the journey of the lion cub Simba as he becomes King of the Pride Lands. The stellar voice cast includes work from Donald Glover and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter.
Opening on July 26th is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the latest from Quentin Tarantino that stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a TV actor and his stunt double as they look to make it big in the movie business in late-1960s Los Angeles.
Opening on August 2nd is The New Mutants, a horror film based in the X-Men universe that finds five young mutants who are being held against their will in a secret facility. Originally slated for an April 2018 release timeframe, the delayed project looks to shake up the traditional superhero genre.
Opening on September 6th is It: Chapter Two, the follow-up to the box office smash that picks up 27 years after the events of the first film as the demonic clown Pennywise continues to haunt the members of The Losers’ Club well into their adult lives.
Opening on October 4th is Joker, a twist on the infamous Batman villain with Joaquin Phoenix as the title character. Set in the early 1980s, the movie centers around a failing stand-up comedian driven to psychosis and a life of crime by the uncaring citizens of Gotham City.
Opening on November 27th is Knives Out, a mystery crime film from Brick and Looper writer/director Ryan Johnson described as “a modern take on the whodunit murder mystery”. A fantastic ensemble cast, including Chris Evans and Lakeith Stanfield, is led by Daniel Craig.
Opening on December 20th is Star Wars: Episode IX, the conclusion to the Star Wars sequel trilogy that brings back The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams following the mixed fan reaction to The Last Jedi. Disney looks to put the franchise back on track after the financial failure of last year’s Solo.
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos turns the costume drama genre on its head with The Favourite, a wickedly hilarious and delightfully idiosyncratic vision of royal life in early 18th century England. With lavish costume design and exquisite set design, the film excels in areas typical of period pieces but it goes beyond that by pairing those aspects with a thoroughly engaging and entertaining story. Lanthimos has channeled his mordant perspective on human behavior into a bracingly original tragicomedy which proves that not every movie with corsets has to be restrained by the trappings of its respective genre.
Olivia Colman gives a brilliant performance as the depressed and erratic Queen Anne, who has effectively relinquished most of her governing ability to her advisor and confidant Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). Though the relationship between the two is strong, Sarah’s efforts to control the Queen are periodically disrupted by haughty Parliament member Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult). Upon the arrival of her cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s political influence is undermined further as Abigail insinuates herself into the Queen’s daily life. Soon enough, a war of attrition develops between the two cousins as they vie for permanent power.
This marks the first time Lanthimos has worked with a script which he didn’t have a hand in writing himself but fortunately, his darkly comic sensibilities seem to be in lock-step with those of screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. Loaded with biting wit and profane exchanges that will keep audience’s ears perked up, the screenplay also does a superb job at developing these three female characters in such a way that we can sympathize with them one minute and loathe them the next. Perhaps the film’s defining line is a self-aware and droll observation from Abigail: “as it turns out, I’m capable of much unpleasantness.”
Another audacious aspect of The Favourite is how many stylistic chances are taken from a visual standpoint. The camerawork by Robbie Ryan is boldly unconventional in its frequent use of low (extremely low, in some cases) angles and fish-eye lenses to throw the audience’s equilibrium off balance. He also adapts to the challenges of shooting in low light settings brilliantly — comparisons to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon are both inevitable and deserved. The costume work from Oscar-winning designer Sandy Powell embraces all of the film’s eccentricities while also staying true to the film’s sense of time and place.
Bringing the entire production together are three outstanding performances calibrated perfectly with one another. Colman modulates layers of sadness for both comedic and dramatic effect while Weisz brings a calculating brilliance to Sarah as she weighs cruelty against compassion in nearly every conversation she has. Stone utilizes her deadpan and self-effacing abilities to masterful effect and also carries through a believable transformation in her character. The Favourite is a bold and distinctive work from a director at the pinnacle of his powers and perhaps it’s not a surprise that it’s my favorite film of the year.
Score – 5/5
Coming to theaters this weekend: Escape Room, starring Taylor Russell and Deborah Ann Woll, pits six teenagers against a trendy new escape room that they soon discover has deadly traps at every turn. If Beale Street Could Talk, starring Stephan James and KiKi Layne, is the latest from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins about a young African-American woman looking to clear her husband’s name after he’s falsely convicted of a crime. On the Basis of Sex, starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer, tells the life story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg starting with a gender discrimination case that would pave the way for the rest of her career.
I’m back in the studio with my brother Eric and my sister-in-law Jessi to talk through The Favourite, the new historical drama/comedy from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. We also talk about endings and narrative ambiguity as it applies to the movie industry as a whole. Find us on Facebook, Twitter and Letterboxd.