Monday, 28 January 2019

Best Actor 2018: Christian Bale in Vice

Christian Bale received his fourth Oscar nomination for portraying Dick Cheney in Vice.

Vice is a terrible film about the rise to power of Dick Cheney.

Vice being terrible is not from a single minor element, but from so many bad, or poorly executed ideas all smashed together like a jigsaw puzzle constructed by an infant. Sadly this is an infant who is constantly condescending to you how brilliant their jigsaw puzzle is and how stupid you are for not noticing how the pieces "should" fit together. Mind you this infant also claims that at the start of the puzzle making that he really was just guessing for the most part, but then at the end tells you all his choices are vetted facts. Of course when writing about this film I will need to digress now and again, as it is hard to not just constantly express my disdain for the overall film. I'm not strictly here for that, though this is going to come up a lot, as I'm here to discuss Christian Bale's performance in the film. This being Bale's second Oscar nominated turn directed by the infant...I mean Adam McKay, and the second where he plays largely a dramatic role despite being in the film that often leans towards the comic in tone, though very poorly mind you. There are a few performances though that are over the top and playing for the laughs, however Bale's isn't really the case, outside one minor detail that I will get to. Bale's here to give us the man that is Cheney, or at least the one allowed by McKay's film.

Cheney was previously portrayed, effectively, by Richard Dreyfuss in the more subtle examination of the Bush administration W. and you know when Oliver Stone is more subtle than you, you might  want to look at yourself carefully in the mirror. Any who, Dreyfuss is in an approximate type of Cheney as in if you hear the casting, you say " that makes sense". Bale on the other hand doesn't remotely look like Cheney or share any of the same mannerisms, so no matter what this was going to be an extreme transformation, which is essentially Bale's trademark at this point. This of course begins with the physical, which at this point it seems like he would amputate his fingers if a role called for, given the extent of weight he puts on here to be the right physical approximation of Cheney. There is more work though to done as Bale seeks to become a full embodiment of every little tic, from his way of tilting his head away from those he's speaking to, his grumbling from the side of his mouth, and just even his exact way of breathing. Bale hits each and every mark in this regard, and feels especially comfortable with these mannerisms, aided by some careful makeup, as the older Cheney. His younger Cheney is less clearly defined, but that has more to do with the script. I have no criticisms here as Bale successfully becomes Cheney physically more or less, and I do think it is beyond a parody impersonation.

I can certainly praise more about Bale's work in terms of his surface performance. Bale, as Dreyfuss did, captures this certain power of personality that is not related to charisma. Bale rather evokes this same sort of internalized determination in his delivery of Cheney's recommendations that seem so assured, that it makes it convincing he could persuade. His persuasion is not through charming those around him, it is rather being seemingly "right" in what he is telling them, and evoking this confidence in a very specific way. This being this quiet in many ways understated certainty. This in part comes from that delivery but also just physical confidence. In a way Bale successfully makes the less appealing physical marks of the character work towards this. In that many of his behaviors like not always looking people in the eye, and speaking out of the side of his mouth, that could be more of a more retiring sort. The power though is within that conviction that Bale realizes in this method, essentially as a man who doesn't need to face you constantly, as he knows, or at least believes he's above you, and doesn't need to speak loudly or directly at you, because he knows you will listen.

Now with Bale really all set to explore Cheney, having his surface qualities down, he just needs a good script to work with to make this an outstanding piece of acting, sadly he's got Vice's. I'll say the comedic tone attempted by the film isn't even the problem with this as Bale plays it straight, all except for the moments where Cheney is having a heart attack where he underplays his own concern. This is over the top by being so quiet as he shows so little worry at it, but I'll be perfectly honest, his delivery of these moments were the only things I found remotely funny in the film. Bale otherwise is consistent with the character as a mostly serious representation of the man, this is even with some terrible "bits" that McKay throws in there. The worst of them being having Cheney and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams), go into a bit of Shakespearean blank verse (not soliloquy as the film says, because it's not one person talking to him or herself) to dramatize his decision to take the vice presidency under George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell). This is frankly an embarrassing scene for both actors however Bale pushes himself through it with as much dignity as he can by just trying to deliver the words as naturally as he can. That is perhaps misguided on his part as it is still atrocious, and both actors look bad doing it.

Thankfully Bale doesn't have to deal with too many horrible bits along the way, but he does have to make sense of McKay's version of Cheney. McKay knows he's angry at Cheney, but just like an infant, his response comes off as more of tantrum than a well reasoned dismantlement of the man. A part of this is in the motivation of Cheney throughout the film. McKay decides to say Cheney's doing it solely for power to the point he shows Cheney becoming a Republican because he likes Donald Rumsfeld(Steve Carell)'s personal style. He goes so far to even have a moment where he asks Rumsfeld "what they believe". This is a ridiculous sentiment, and historically untrue, but above all it's just nonsensical to make this accusation. As a person who has firm beliefs can be just as horrible as someone who doesn't care, as you know this guy Adolf Hitler, had some very strong beliefs, yet still was a nadir of humanity. Anyway this leaves part of the film with Bale just doing this imposing force of "evil" act, and essentially every bad decision ever made, including the creation of ISIS, was done by Cheney's meddling according to McKay. Now that is a problematic in many ways, but one of the major ones is it basically makes the narrative, "Cheney did this, then this, then this, then this, then this, then this, then this" without any real insight into a single element of his political career. Bale in turn doesn't get enough of a chance to really do much past the surface other than portray the brutal force of will that is the man. Bale makes an impact with this to be sure, as his aforementioned realization of Cheney's personal style is effective. It sadly leaves thought the rise to power a rather bland one with Bale rarely getting to really sink his teeth into a scene to explore the character beyond a cursory point.

Of course McKay, I think accidentally, has another possible motivation or by way of only a single draft of the script I would imagine. This being the idea that he's doing it all for his family. This would at least explain the inexplicable, historically and otherwise, inclusion of a very thin conspiracy theory that Lynne Cheney's father killed her mother. I think this is in the film to show Cheney's protective spirit towards his family, though this is rather muddled if that was the case. I honestly don't think it quite as McKay seems timid to the idea of the scenes between Cheney and his family, since he doesn't know what to do with the idea of the loving father, going so far to fully support his lesbian daughter despite it not being politically viable for him. Having said that, while McKay doesn't know what to do with it, Bale does. In his scenes with his daughters, old or young, Bale brings a notable vulnerability and shows just the purest warmth of a father's love. I will especially give him credit in his scenes of comforting his daughter when she comes out to him, or his scene of near heart failure. Bale doesn't wink in the slightest just bringing the deepest tenderness in the moment, honestly depicting a father's love even if the man is questionable otherwise. McKay of course feels he has to lampshade that even with his laborious ending where he tries to argue a case for Cheney's betrayal of his daughter afterall, though this is an especially poorly written bit to which Bale has little involvement.

Anyway I think a far more compelling narrative could've been created stemming from Cheney seeking to protect and build his family no matter the cost if it had been better supported by the script. As Bale is most compelling in this regard, and this seems like a more believable motivation, than just a guy who wants power for the sake of it. This is as it fails to explain why he would be so specific in his endeavors involving the war on terror, McKay seems to suggest he abuses the power just to do so I guess, not for any personal reason, which is pretty dumb. The alternate motivation does work though, and again it genuinely seems like this Bale's take, despite McKay's efforts otherwise, when we arrive to Bale's last scene in the film, which was evidently Bale's idea. It's a legitimately great scene for Bale, from the outset when we see a reporter talking to him. This is the one scene we get to see Cheney fully in the public eye, and Bale's great in putting on the false bit of affability in his slight smile, trying to be a little less coldhearted. He of course then breaks the fourth wall, Bale's idea, but the speech, and Bale's approach plays into that more potent motivation for Cheney's actions. This idea that his "protection" of his family essentially goes to these extremes to destroy all enemies domestic and especially abroad. Bale reveals this quite effectively in his emotional break as this unrepentant, vicious, yet honestly passionate portrayal of the man's conviction to his beliefs. It has a real power through Bale's delivery, that offers a greater depth than he was allowed to reveal for the majority of the film. This brief scene makes me wish that Bale had been in a far better film about the subject. Bale is on point, and at times finds more than is on the page, and often independently rises above his material. Although the weaknesses of this film limit what Bale can do with the character, it is a good performance in an atrocious film.


Matt Mustin said...

I kinda figured you'd like him a decent amount.

Also, I've seen Adam McKay directly attack people on twitter (I mean *directly*. Replies, not subtweets) for not appreciating what he did with this movie, which is not surprising considering his directing style.

Bryan L. said...

Yeah, a 4 sounds about right.

Louis: Your thoughts on Game Night and ratings & thoughts for the cast?

Bryan L. said...

Louis: And would you say that Bale's speech at the end is one of the least earned in recent film history? In terms of the movie not quite building up to that, not Bale himself.

Charles H said...

I agree with everything in the review although i might go slightly lower with the rating.

Louis: Your thoughts on the films you saw and thoughts on the casts.

Emi Grant said...

Louis: Glad he got a 4. I do have to agree with most of your criticisms of the film.

Your updated Top 20 Bale moments?

Mitchell Murray said...

As stated in my review he's a 3.5 for me. I'll agree that he if technically sound in the Cheney mannerisms, and adds more depth to the man than McKay ever intended.

Your right on the money, though, when comparing "Vice" to the temper tantrum of a spoiled brat.

Calvin Law said...

Coincidentally I’m glad you say Game Night and Plemons to help regain trust in the latter.

I’ve been way too harsh on this performance, and after reading your review, I will agree on most points, particularly with regards to the complexity he brings to the father-daughter relationship. In fact I’m almost wondering if I’m being too kind to Mortensen and Malek in comparison.

Calvin Law said...

Your thoughts and ratings for the Wolf Brigade and A Private War casts and the films themselves?

Anonymous said...

John Smith: Nu request is Ulrik Munther in
'The Here After'.

Luke Higham said...

At Eternity's Gate is up guys.
Louis: Could you do Malek next then Cooper and Dafoe to finish off.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: And GM requested Innokenti Smoktunovsky in Hamlet (1964 Lead)

Mitchell Murray said...

Luke: That will teach me to be more patient, eh. I'm just going to make a quick edit...

Deiner said...

Louis: Your rating and thoughts on Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction and Bette Davis in The Whales of August

Luke Higham said...

Oscar Isaac's been cast in Dune.

Bryan L. said...

Luke: Glad to hear that. He could definitely use a good film now, which it could be with Villenueve directing.

Although I honestly don't have too much faith in Chalamet as the lead.

Luke Higham said...

Bryan: As it's Villeneuve, Chalamet should get the benefit of the doubt.

Bryan L. said...

Luke: Fair point. He's definitely gotten good-to-great performances from his leads, so maybe he sees something in Chalamet.

I also hope the latter delivers a good performance in the Michod film he's doing that comes out this year.

Luke Higham said...

Edgerton as Falstaff has to be one of the most intriguing castings for a film this year and honestly, I can picture Chalamet as Prince Hal though not as the Warrior King.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the cinematography of The American Friend and Repo Man.

And what do you think of Muller doing the cinematography for an 80's Drive?

Michael McCarthy said...

I just felt like mentioning that I saw Stan & Ollie a few days ago and it's had a very surprising amount of staying power with me. It's genuinely heartwarming without being overly sentimental, and the humor really lands. Did anyone else who saw it enjoy it as much as I did?

Luke Higham said...

Michael: Yes I did. What are your ratings for Reilly and Coogan.

Michael McCarthy said...

Luke: Easy 4.5s for both.

Calvin Law said...

Michael: I liked it a lot too - I thought the earnest and sweet tone really suited the film and its leads wonderfully. The humour is great, I particularly liked the interplay between the real ‘comic duo’ and their wives’ own dynamic.

Well I thought At Eternity’s Gate is certainly more than a few steps below The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and I probably preferred Basquiat too, having said that the cinematography choices which worked for me, REALLY worked even when some of the other stylistic choices didn’t, there’s some great sequences, and yeah Dafoe is great. I’d say Cooper and he are about on par for me.

Michael McCarthy said...

I think At Eternity's Gate is definitely an admirable film, and it certainly looks great. Having said that, I don't think it's very actor friendly. Schnabel's direction seems so focused on the existential that it forces all of the characters to be pretty vague.I give Dafoe a lot of credit to how much soul and emotion he's able to put into his performance, but I think that the nature of the film keeps any of the characters from being as complex as they could have been.

Anonymous said...

Louis: your top 20 amy adams and naomi watts acting moments

Louis Morgan said...


Game Night is quite a bit of fun. I appreciated that the film was actually directed rather than just positioned like a sitcom as so many comedies are filmed today. It brings a nice thriller element and plays with actually through the camerawork and editing. Not every bit works mind you outside of that, but at lot do to make just an entertaining ride.

Bateman - 3.5(Very much doing his sardonic leading man turn, but a nice example of it.)

McAdams - 4(Rather enjoyed her performance here as I was glad just how much she is in on the fun and throws herself into every scene. Rather than being the voice reason she's perhaps the most insane and pulls it off rather marvelously here. I especially loved her reaction to the moment where the guy gets sucked up by the airplane engine, which was just impeccable comic delivery and reaction.)

Plemons - 4(Rather hilarious work from him doing his creep turn he perfected as Todd, but readjusting it beautifully for less intense situations. Plemeons though keeps up the same sort of intensity with it and in turn is just comic gold every second he's onscreen. His straight faced delivery is just wonderful every step of the way.)

Chandler - 3.5(A nice bit of smarmy bit of scum work from him. He brings a nice bit of ego right along with just playing up the sleaze of the character so effectively.)

Morris, Magnussen, Horgan, Bunbury - 3(All are nice as a group however I don't think a single one excels beyond a certain point of being fine. The extremely dumb guy in particular has been done better elsewhere though Magnussen's take isn't bad.)

Hall and Huston just are kind of there.

Well nothing in the film was "earned" since it lacked really any cohesive structure, that speech included.

Emi Grant:

1. Meeting Lord Cadlow - The Prestige
2. Borden says goodbye to Fallon - The Prestige
3. Listening to the tape - Out of the Furnace
4. Dieter in Captivity - Rescue Dawn
5. Killing Paul Allen - American Psycho
6. After the bombings - Empire of the Sun
7. A bullet Catch gone wrong - The Prestige
8. Finding "Justice" - Out of the Furnace
9. Seeing Duane - Rescue Dawn
10. A rivalry ends - The Prestige
11. Trying to revive everyone - Empire of the Sun
12. Friend's suicide - Hostiles
13. Confronting his brother - Out of the Furnace
14. Watching the Documentary - The Fighter
15. Fight with his "wife" - The Prestige
16. Comforting his daughter - Vice
17. Telling Ben the truth - 3:10 to Yuma
18. Phone confession - American Psycho
19. burial rights - Hostiles
20. Final speech - Vice


Wolf Brigade actually does feature a lot of Kim Jee-woon's vibrant direction. Unfortunately the story is just so excessively convoluted that it leaves the film distant and inert. There are definitely worthwhile elements within it, but it just never comes to life as it should due to how jumbled the screenplay is. I also think it lacks a proper anchor and Kim really needs to team back up with Byung-hun Lee sooner than later.

Gang & Han - 3(Both are fine in their looks of longing but not much more. Sadly their work just never becomes any more. Gang in particular lacks the needed charisma to really engage the part with a more engrossing quality. This film needed Lee, and though I don't think it would've saved the film it would've made it a whole lot stronger.)

No one else stands out unfortunately, where's Song, Choi and Lee when you need them?

Louis Morgan said...

A Private War is well intention with a potent subject matter, and has compelling personal story at its center. Sadly this doesn't come together. This is partially due to something I'll get to below, but it suffers from rushing through its elements again. It weighs heavily much like something like Concussion with it so wants to remind you have the suffering of its subjects it forgets to ensure the narrative is still gripping around that. It is sadly repetitive in this and fails to truly explore any point of Marie Colvin with appropriate detail. It just rushes through her accomplishments and experiences. Nothing is explored beyond a cursory point. It isn't a terrible film, but it just doens't realize the potency of its subject/subject matter.

Pike - 2(Now Pike is a major problem in this. Her performance reminded of an 80's Eric Roberts performance. In that boy is she trying, but boy is she not pulling it off. It is a mess of a performance. The worst of it being her terrible American accent that sadly comes off as a campy and is extremely detrimental to the film and her performance. Sadly her turn is just posturing otherwise. She shows some extreme emotions but unfortunately fails to really conduct them through a palatable form in her work. It is all surface, and it all adds up to very little in the end.)

Dornan - 3(He actually is more than decent throughout the film and has a pretty great moment in his final scene.)

Hollander - 3(Hollanding it up, nice bit of him here.)


Archer - 4(It's a good performance from her in just portraying the part as naturally as possible. She brings a nice warmth, but also a nice honesty in her sense of betrayal. Her slow breakdown in the last portion is particularly effective as she makes it such a natural decay of her mental state.)

Davis - 3.5(A bit of left over Davis over dramatics at times. She clearly wants to steal some scenes, and it is a bit much at times. It isn't a bad performance mind you. Her best moments come from just sharing the quieter ones with Gish. They share a chemistry and create the right sense of depth in their relationship with one another.)


His work is rather exceptional in The American Friend. There are such dynamic shots he realizes throughout with these brilliant neo-noir type of compositions, where there really is so much just in the shot alone. In addition the naturalish lighting is brilliant done as it does feel natural, yet there is such gorgeous use of colors throughout that are highlighted so effectively, just as shadows would've been in a traditional noir.

I wouldn't say Cox knows how to use Muller as effectively as Wenders did. Having said that Repo Man still is pretty striking in the way it is shot. Again his framing and compositions have these atypical brilliance perfectly fitting the strange, strange film that is Repo Man. The lighting is less "intense" outside of the powerful green again, but in a way that helps to ensure that effects stands out all the more. Of course the film is not poorly lit mind you, just far more standard than say how the colors and light are used in The American Friend.

I could see it.

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