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Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Eddie Marsan, Justin Kirk, LisaGay Hamilton, Jesse Plemons, Bill Camp, Don McManus, Lily Rabe, Shea Whigham

Director: Adam McKay

Given the (alleged?) universal fame - real, imagined or (most frequently) merely contrived, Hollywood-style, by cunning and conscience-free movie publicists - of American political figures, it is fascinating to note that often such US 'giants' have been played on screen by non-Americans.

So Presidential aspirant Senator Gary Hart was recently played by Australian Hugh Jackman in The Front Runner and now we have Welsh-born Bale, deservedly Oscar nominated for Best Actor - near unrecognisable after gaining considerable weight to play Vice President Dick Cheney who, we are informed, 'quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W Bush'.

Given the all-too-prevalent oddball activities of the current haystack-haired occupant of the White House, writer-director - and equally well-deserved Oscar-nominee = McKay (even more entertainingly cynical here than with his previous picture The Big Short) earns additional praise for his cruelly satirical portrait of Cheney.

McKay shrewdly allows himself an excellent escape hatch when he advises 'leave your preconceptions at the door' and proceeds to chart this exhilarating (and almost inevitably quite depressing in subtext) saga of the rise and rise of the young Cheney from boozy young Yale dropout in Wyoming to the forceful Washington insider who wielded huge power as George W Bush's vice-president ('a mostly symbolic job' he lies merrily) after soaking up the devious ways of US politics while in the White House working for Donald Rumsfeld (cruelly and all-too-convincingly satirised by Carell) and then as Secretary of Defence and White House Chief of Staff.

Needless to say, the cheerfully-conniving Cheney emerges as the archetypal all-American political hero who also doubles effectively as a successful industrial CEO during the unfortunate Clinton presidency...

Bale's riveting characterisation, which rightly won him a Golden Globe and then the Oscar nomination, is unforgettable, delivering a superb performance that carries even more dramatic weight than the patently-obvious weight gain he achieved to fit his role.

It's Bale's film and he carries it with mesmerising force, well aided and abetted by a gallery of fine portrayals led by rightful Oscar-nominee Adams as Cheney's sympathetic, career-catalysing wife. Rockwell scores as Bush while Carell (happily erasing queasy memories of his time in the US version of the always-overrated small-screen series The Office) reins in his usual 'LOOK AT ME!' comic acting style.

Ironically, we see Cheney undergoing a heart-transplant: but surely a politician with a heart is more of a fairy-tale element than a credible biopic ingredient?

Alan Frank

USA 2018. UK Distributor: eOne. Colour.
132 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 2, Swearing 2.

Review date: 27 Jan 2019