×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Oscars: Christian Bale Leaps Into the Lead Actor Race With Adam McKay’s Sobering ‘Vice’

’Tis the season for latter-year revelations. With Adam McKay’s new film “Vice,” a follow-up to his 2015 Oscar winner “The Big Short,” a major one has landed, though it’s hardly a surprise: Christian Bale might be in line to receive his second Academy Award to date, for his uncanny portrayal of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Any glance at the film’s trailer made it clear that the 44-year-old actor, who previously won the supporting actor prize for 2010’s “The Fighter,” had undergone one of his famous transformations for this production, packing on the pounds, shaving back his hair, sporting makeup effects to bridge the gaps between actor and portly politico. It was a true immersion. I talked to him on Variety’s “Playback” podcast the day after he wrapped nearly a year ago, in fact, and he was happy to shake the lingering effects of the performance at the time. But a trailer is one thing. To see Bale in all his glory as the Machiavellian Cheney for two-plus hours is another thing altogether.

The film packs an infuriating punch as McKay writes history with lightning yet again. The question for pretty much anyone that he, production company Plan B and distributor Annapurna hopes to engage with this material over the holidays is whether we’re ready to dissect it all. Is the move-going audience — indeed, are Academy voters — ready to take stock of all this chapter in history with the depressing news glowing up at us from our mobile devices on a daily basis? It would be a hell of a time to hand someone an Oscar for portraying this particular man, and that takes nothing from Bale’s brilliant work. By the same token, “Vice” could be argued as the most urgent and important film in the race this year. One just wonders if the stomach is there for it.

We’ll survey the lead actor category more in-depth in an upcoming column, but it’s safe to say Bale joins “A Star Is Born” multi-hyphenate Bradley Cooper on the top tier of the competition. If the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. accepts Annapurna’s comedy placement for “Vice” (they may well, but this is far less of a comedy than “The Big Short”), then the two actors will likely split the Golden Globe prizes, which will send them headlong into phase two of the season.

But Bale isn’t the full story here, of course. It’s an inspired ensemble McKay has once again pulled together, from Amy Adams as Cheney’s wife Lynne (a Lady Macbeth-like figure) to Steve Carell’s irreverent Donald Rumsfeld to Oscar winner Sam Rockwell’s clueless George W. Bush. They and others should help secure a Screen Actors Guild bid for best ensemble, and Adams ought to be along for much of the awards season journey with Bale as well.

Beyond that, it’s an excellently crafted piece of work. Within the scenes, editor Hank Corwin wrangles what must have been a ton of footage into the kaleidoscope of a mysterious personality. That work along with Nicholas Britell’s delicate score and Greig Fraser’s intimate photography really take you straight into Cheney’s beating, failing heart, and they’re likely to pick up their share of Academy support.

On the whole, “Vice” is quite a sobering entry in the ongoing 2018 canon. It will be interesting to see how viewers and voters alike take to a movie that simply leaves you feeling like crap. But that’s also kind of the point. No one gets off easy here. It’s an unflinching analysis. And in the film’s final moments, culpability is quite pointedly assigned.

Enjoy the ride home from this one.

More Film

  • Spirit Awards Showcase Oscar Players and

    Spirit Awards Showcase Oscar Players and Also-Rans, With Heavy Hitters on Deck

    Five of the last eight best feature winners at the annual Film Independent Spirit Awards have gone on to win best picture at the Oscars, including a four-year streak from 2013-2016. It was a steadily evolving status quo that led former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences governor Bill Mechanic to question his organization’s [...]

  • Bo Burnham34th Film Independent Spirit Awards,

    Bo Burnham Wants 'Eighth Grade' Star Elsie Fisher to Direct Him

    Bo Burnham won his third award in three weeks for “Eighth Grade” at the Spirit Awards and said he wants the film’s 15-year-old Elsie Fisher to direct him. “I’d love to work with Elsie again,” Burnham said backstage after winning the Best First Screenplay trophy.  “She wants to direct so I’d love to switch roles [...]

  • Nicole Holofcener: 'Can You Ever Forgive

    Nicole Holofcener: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' Director Was Cheated Out of an Oscar Nomination

    “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” screenwriter Nicole Holofcener offered a blunt assessment of the lack of Academy Awards recognition for director Marielle Heller, and women directors everywhere. “I feel Marielle was cheated and I feel badly about that,” Holofcener said backstage after winning a Spirit Award for screenplay with Jeff Whitty. Holofcener was originally attached [...]

  • Stephan James as Fonny and Brian

    2019 Indie Spirit Awards Winners: Complete List

    The 2019 Independent Spirit Awards took place on a beach in Santa Monica, Calif., with Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” taking the top prize for best feature along with best director for Jenkins. Ethan Hawke and Glenn Close took the prizes for best male lead and best female lead, respectively. Bo Burnham took [...]

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    Hated It! How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Gripe About the Oscars

    Watching the Academy Awards telecast, then grousing about it the next day, has become a hipster parlor game — it’s what the Complete Oscar Experience now is. The complaints are legion, and we all know what they are, because we’ve all made them. The show was too long. The host bombed. His or her opening [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content