Quick Hit: The tricks that made The Big Short memorable come across as smug and condescending here, masking some great performances in this swing and a miss biopic.
In the past couple years, we’ve watched a LOT of movies. One of my favorites I got to write for the site was for The Big Short. It was a movie I probably wouldn’t have watched without this site, but I loved the movie. I thought Adam McKay’s fourth wall breaks were charming and helped to explain difficult concepts that not too many people understood. Even friends I had in finance were impressed with the explanations that were presented. So when I saw that McKay’s next movie was going to be about Vice President Dick Cheney, I was cautiously excited.
However, McKay goes way too far with this one, and not just the viewpoints. I’m not here to debate political issues – definitely not my gift – but it’s pretty easy to say that this wasn’t a great movie. The cuts away for explanation that occurred in The Big Short added to the movie in a substantial way. Here, the same cuts are used, but they are explaining things that don’t really need explanation. There is very little from the war and 9/11 that is unknown to the American public at this point. It shoves the momentum to a halt every time this occurs, and it also causes tonal shifts in the story that are drastic. There are times (like the beginning of the film where Lynn (Amy Adams) confronts Dick (Christian Bale) about his drinking) that this is a pure drama. But there are other times, where the movie dives deep into the comedy edge. But how can you reconcile that with images of the Two Towers and people being water-boarded and tortured?
Along with that, there are a ton of visual metaphors that are presented throughout the film. Some, like Cheney’s heart failure, is way overdone. Others, are done well, like an example of Cheney talking with a young George Bush regarding his Presidency, and comparing it to a fish taking the bait. Again though, the movie pushes these at you again and again, and you almost never have the chance to breath before another metaphor – like a persistent fly throughout the film – is shoved back into your face.
It’s for these reasons that this movie isn’t very good. However, there are some amazing performances that are featured in this movie.
Christian Bale is known for taking performances where he undergoes large physical transformations. In The Machinist, he reportedly lost 60 pounds for the role. For the role of Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy, he put on a ton of muscle to his normally slim frame. Here, the actor reportedly gained 45 pounds to match the weight of Dick Cheney, formal Vice President. And it is just the icing on the cake of a terrific performance. He truly gives in to the role, grunting and giving the gruff, breathless voice of the veep that we had for eight years. Amy Adams also gives a fantastic performance as Lynn, Cheney’s wife, that grows into the role and consistently supports her husband. Her performance is astounding, whether she’s reciting Shakespeare (nearly, this is McKayspeare) or glaring, she gives it her all in a way that glues the rest of the performances together. Steve Carrell also gives a solid performance as Donald Rummy Rumsfeld, and so the performances hold strong throughout.
It’s with a truly heavy heart that I feel like I have to rate this film so low despite the performances being so terrific. But the rest of the movie just isn’t any good around them. It’s a movie with a giant tonal imbalance that is jarring in its shifts. I’m giving it a “D+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"