Vice

Vice

Bale. Christian Bale. He’s the reason to see Vice.

The chameleon/actor portrays former U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney. And, although Bale doesn’t really resemble the ex-veep, his transformation is pretty amazing. Not just Bale’s weight gain but also his accurate mimicry of Cheney’s speech patterns and Cheney’s penchant for talking out of the side of his mouth.

Cheney’s story as told in Vice is not a flattering one. Though not quite “gonzo journalism” a la Hunter S. Thompson, this “sort of” biopic has a lot of what David Letterman used to call “writer’s embellishment.” Yes, there is a framework of true facts here but parts of this narrative are bent to poke holes in Cheney’s legacy and deliver laughs. And, yes, Vice is funny!

Writer/director Adam McKay presents Cheney as a guy with little direction until his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) sets him straight. He’s a bit of a bumbling conniver when he gets to Washington and soon goes to work to establish his own sphere of influence.

(Cheney’s career included tenures as a White House Chief of Staff, a U.S. Representative, Secretary of Defense and Vice-President, so he must have demonstrated at least a modicum of competence.)

As with The Big Short, his previous comedy rooted in fact, McKay tries to simplify a complicated story that has many nooks and crannies. Should America blame Cheney for everything that has gone wrong with our nation’s involvement in Middle Eastern politics this century? McKay would have you believe that Cheney should shoulder much of the blame.

Admirably, Cheney is shown to be sympathetic and loving when his daughter Mary (Alison Pill) comes out to her parents as gay. (Lynne is not so understanding.)

Other key players in the film include Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) and George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell). They are sources of some of the funnier moments.

I called The Big Short a failure in my review of the film in 2015. Click HERE to read it. Like Vice it was wickedly funny but as an explainer for what happened to cause the financial crisis, it fell short. Vice, on the other hand, is focused and proceeds in a linear manner with few course changes. It tells its tale well, however with a liberal bent (which McKay acknowledges in a hilarious coda).

See it. Enjoy it. Don’t take it as gospel.

 

 

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Truth

Truth is one version of the truth. The story comes via CBS producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) who was fired in 2004 for her role in a Sixty Minutes report that the network later admitted was inaccurate. The incident also took down longtime CBS anchorman Dan Rather (Robert Redford).

The film has a message for all journalists: Even if you have a great story, even if the story is true, you must do a good job of confirming your facts.

Did George W. Bush skip out on his Air National Guard duties in the early 70s? Mapes had information that he did. In Truth, she and her team (including Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss) work to find people who will go on the record about Bush’s alleged malfeasance.

When retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett (a sickly looking Stacy Keach) produces memos from back-in-the-day and another military man confirms their validity in a phone call, Mapes and Rather decide the story is ready for air.

In short order there are accusations that the memos are not legit. First, it is right wing bloggers who challenge them. Later, ABC News expresses doubts that they are authentic.

The CBS eye blinks at the rancor and Dan Rather issues an on-air apology for having aired the story. After a CBS internal investigation, Mapes is canned and Rather is allowed to resign.

Cate Blanchett’s Mapes is a conflicted woman. She wants to defend her team’s story, despite the holes in the reporting. Yet she also wants to keep her job. She is passionate when chasing the story and angry when the story implodes. Redford delivers a robust performance and captures Rather’s TV charisma. (After his lackluster work in A Walk In The Woods, it is nice to see Redford back on his game.)

But there is a major deceit in Truth. It is implied that Mapes and Rather had no political motive in airing the story. If you believe that they were not looking to knock the incumbent down a notch just two months before the 2004 election, I can get you a great deal on the Poplar Street Bridge.

The cozy relationship between CBS parent Viacom and government gets called out in an impassioned speech by Grace’s character. It is not news that the feds have regulated the airwaves since the beginning of commercial broadcasting. The speech purports to shed light but comes off as sour grapes from a person about to be escorted from the building.

Truth is a well-made bit of storytelling and an entertaining chronicle of how NOT to do journalism. Any good reporter knows that a film that names itself Truth must be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. The fact that the production company for Truth is Mythology Entertainment (true) is only appropriate.

Killing Them Softly

Brutality, gore and obscene language combine to deliver the year’s grittiest crime drama. Setting the film against the backdrop of the 2008 pre-election financial crisis could have been a genius move, but ultimately is just an amusing juxtaposition.

“Killing Them Softly” is not a classic but has several memorable characters and some funny dark humor.

The story: two novice hoods are sent to rob a card game that’s run by the mob. They’re nervous, but they pull it off. Brad Pitt plays a mid-level mobster whose mission is to avenge the robbery. Pitt tells a mob lawyer, played by Richard Jenkins in one of their many conversations, that he doesn’t like to get into his target’s faces, he prefers to kill them “softly, from a distance.”

He imports a gunman played by James Gandolfini to help with the killing. This subcontracted hitman has addictions, mainly booze and hookers, which render him basically useless. Also in the cast are Ray Liotta and Sam Shepard.

Cinematic highlights include one particularly violent shooting, presented in slow motion a la “Bonnie and Clyde.” Also effective is the movie’s opening whose audio switches sharply back and forth between hard rock music and Barrack Obama campaign speech soundbites.

Throughout the film we see and hear TV clips of George W. Bush making his case to congress for bailout money and references to the ’08 election. The message, apparently, is that the meltdown affected mob finances just as much as it did the rest of America.

To borrow a line from another president, let me make one thing perfectly clear: this is one of the more violent movies you’ll ever see. If that’s your thing, enjoy. If not, stay away.