If nothing else, this disturbing and alarmingly factual movie gives an insight into the origins of ISIS, the emergence of Trump, and the whole impenetrable mess that the planet is in today. Dick Cheney, played by a physically transformed Christian Bale, was George W Bush’s vice-president from 2001 to 2009, during which time he established himself as the man who wielded power in Washington. From his beginnings as a drunken yobbo in Wyoming, Cheney matures as an amoral, pragmatic, and shrewd politician, but he is also shown to be fiercely protective of his family when he staunchly defends his lesbian daughter. Despite my prejudices, as he is presented here, I found it hard to think of of him as Satan. Director Adam McKay’s background is in writing comedy, often in collaboration with Will Ferrell, so it should not surprise that there is a strong element of the quirky and satirical – the scene in which Dubya (Sam Rockwell), with drumstick in hand, offers Cheney the gig as VP would be hilarious if it weren’t so chilling. Nor is McKay above gimmickry – the identity of the narrator who charts Cheney’s career is revealed through a bizarre surprise; there is a false, happy-ever-after ending, with credits included; and at one point, after the narrator has told us we cannot possibly know the Cheneys’ motivations, Dick and Lynne (Amy Adams) are seen in bed speaking conspiratorial lines from Macbeth. The decision to bomb Iraq rather than Afghanistan after 9/11 because ‘there are better targets’ seems horribly authentic. The tone might verge on flippancy, but somehow it feels perfectly appropriate for events that have resulted in western democracy running off the rails. It’s a scathing indictment of ambition and greed in US politics, but it is kept afloat by wit and brilliant performances from Bale, Adams, and Rockwell. With cherry-picked gems from archival footage – Ronald Reagan campaigning to ‘make America great again’ in the 80s – this is pop culture as high art.
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