Vice – a weekly round-up of the newest films at Portsmouth cinemas

Christian Bale as Dick Cheney and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney in Vice.
Christian Bale as Dick Cheney and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney in Vice.

Grab the popcorn for the latest releases. 

Vice (15)

Vice nervously prowls the corridors of power in Washington D.C. to satirise another true story of malicious meddling and unabashed self-interest.

‘Or as true as it can be given that Dick Cheney is one of the most secretive leaders in history,’ quips an opening title card, which establishes the irreverent tone of a breakneck tour through chapters of recent history including the Gulf War and the September 11 attacks.

For the opening hour, Vice is a briskly paced and engrossing portrait of ambition, electrified by an Oscar-worthy performance from Christian Bale, who gained 40 pounds to portray Cheney.

The Haverfordwest-born actor completes his startling transformation with more than 100 pieces of prosthetic make-up to replicate the jowls, jawline and distinctive nose of his subject, who served as vice president to George W. Bush between 2001 and 2009.

Once Cheney achieves his goals, McKay's film leaches dramatic tension.

Narrated by an everyman called Kurt (Jesse Plemons), whose importance becomes clear in the film's final act, Vice opens in 1963 Wyoming where the young Dick Cheney (Bale) works on the power lines and drinks to excess.

Dick is a crushing disappointment to 21-year-old sweetheart Lynne (Amy Adams), whose father also lives by the bottle, and she refuses to let history repeat.

Dick secures an internment at the White House where he assiduously aligns himself with Republican Congressman Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell).

By playing the waiting game on Capitol Hill, Dick manoeuvres himself into the position of running mate to George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) during the 2000 US presidential election.

Vice takes aim at a dizzying array of easy targets and hits the majority.

Like Gary Oldman's tour-de-force theatrics in Darkest Hour, Bale slips beneath the skin of his political puppetmaster with elan, staring defiantly at the camera as he persuades Bush to expand the remit of a vice president so he can "handle the more mundane jobs... military, energy and foreign policy".

Cut to images of an angler reeling in a prize catch.

Adams is equally compelling as a steely spouse, who expects her man to step up, seize his destiny by the throat and squeeze, hard.

We all carried those bruises.

Released January 25. 

Mary Queen of Scots (15)

Beau Willimon's screenplay spans 26 years between the return of Mary Stuart to the Scottish motherland and her execution at Fotheringhay Castle at the behest of Elizabeth I.

In 1561, a Protestant queen, Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie), rules England. Her power is threatened by the return of 18-year-old Catholic cousin Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) from France.

Many English Catholics believe Mary is the legitimate heir to the English throne. While figures close to the Scottish queen plot against her, men in Elizabeth's court attempt to manoeuvre their monarch on to the bloodstained path of civil war.

Mary Queen Of Scots glosses over Mary's years of incarceration in England before her beheading for dramatic expediency, concentrating on the period when the two women were pitted against one another despite their best effort to remain sisters.

Ronan and Robbie command their scenes with tub-thumping support from a largely homegrown cast. Willimon's script struggles to condense decades of history into an easily digestible two hours of courtly intrigue and ripping bodices. 

Out now.

The Mule (15)

Adapted for the screen with an exceedingly heavy hand by Nick Schenk, The Mule relies on Clint Eastwood to inject life into a plodding tale of fractured families and economic strife.

The 88-year-old Oscar winner duly obliges, investing his politically incorrect old coot with rascally charm, which allows a fallen family man to ferry hundreds of kilos of cocaine across Illinois without arousing the suspicions of law enforcement.  

Schenk's linear script hammers home the lead character's failings as a husband and father with the subtlety of a battering ram to a rickety wooden door, engineering pointed conversations between family members.

Released January 25. 

Destroyer (15)

A tragically flawed Los Angeles police detective seeks redemption on the mean streets where she fell from grace in director Karyn Kusama's gritty crime thriller.

Destroyer opens on the face of a woman, bathed in morning sunlight, regaining consciousness in the front seat of her car.

Heavy circles of tiredness hang under her eyes, her teeth are stained, the skin of her dry lips slightly cracked in the scorching heat and tumbles of greying hair frame her haggard features.

Buried beneath all that despair is chameleonic Oscar winner Nicole Kidman, who delivers a fearless and uncompromising performance that elevates and illuminates Kusama's uneven character study.

Released January 25.