' ' Cinema Romantico: The New Pretend W

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The New Pretend W

The pre-release run-up to “Vice” has inevitably focused on leading man Christian Bale’s patented physical transformation to play former Vice President Dick Cheney by shaving his head, bleaching his eyebrows, and packing on 40 pounds so that when he first appears in the trailer you don’t recognize Bale as Bale, just as Cheney, or Cheney-ish. It is impressive, certainly, in its own way, though it remains to be seen, of course, given that the movie has not actually been released, whether or not this physical transformation will result in a performance rather than a mere impersonation, or impression.

Impression is easy, relatively speaking, and sometimes fun. It was fun when both Will Ferrell and Will Forte impersonated Cheney’s boss, the 43rd President, George W. Bush, on Saturday Night Live. Ferrell honed in on the squint, making it the preeminent point, and infused the real POTUS’s laconic drawl with a comical Don’t-Worry-I-Got-This self-confidence while Forte seemed to play Bush II like he’d had it up to here with having to explain why he had political capital to spend, dammit. Each of these impressions were enjoyable, and sort of presaged the future moment when Bush struggled to work a poncho at Bozo the Spray Tan Clown’s inaugural. But neither really managed to uncover any deeper Presidential truths. Indeed, when Ferrell expanded the role for an HBO special, it never came off because he could not find the second gear; he could not turn his impression into a performance.

As Dubya in Oliver Stone’s 2008 film “W”, Josh Brolin managed to forgo mere caricature and instead, in tandem with flashbacks to # 43’s past, sculpted something akin to a frat boy king, a little like Dave Foley’s Bad Doctor, but even scarier, where he has just sort of found his way here and now here he is. In a way, you could see how Brolin’s reading might feed directly into Ferrell’s, where the aggrieved insistence has metastasized into easygoing impudence.

We have to wait see how recent Oscar winner Sam Rockwell decides to play George W. Bush in “Vice” because, as previously stated, the movie has not been released. And yet. While it should be made clear that I am not, in any way, judging his performance based on a single expression in the “Vice” trailer since, hey, obviously, I have yet to see the actual movie, still, my God, that single expression in the “Vice” trailer.

The expression occurs in reaction to Cheney deflecting Bush’s offer of the Vice Presidency by citing the position’s overly symbolic nature. To which, over chicken wings, a prop feeling as important and as innocuous as Steph Curry chewing on his mouthguard, Rockwell has his Dubya respond with this look, a look that, frankly, leaves me feeling like Billy Bob Thornton as Willie in “Bad Santa” trying to figure out if Thurman Merman is fucking with him.

I look at that expression and I think whatever he’s thinking might not go back any further than his eyeballs, or I think it might go all the way down to the grease trap of his soul. But whatever I think, I also think that whatever he’s thinking, he’s sure as hell not thinking about you or me.

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