At Deadline’s The Contenders Los Angeles today, Annapurna Pictures showed off two dramas from their impressive awards-season slate, and a unifying concern emerged: The American Dream, and the ways it has changed over time. While members of the privileged class have bent it into a new, baser shape, for those less fortunate, it’s often denied altogether.
The first of the two films at hand was Adam McKay’s Vice, his follow-up to The Big Short, which took on the 2008 financial crisis and won McKay the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. One of the later entries of the season (and mostly still shrouded in mystery), Vice examines the political rise of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), a Washington insider with big pockets, who became the most powerful Vice President in American history under George W. Bush.
In conversation with star Amy Adams, who portrays Lynne Cheney, and Deadline’s Dominic Patten, McKay lifted the veil, answering “the million-dollar question”: Why tell Dick Cheney’s story, and why now?
“Here’s a guy that had a huge effect on America, that changed the course of history, and yet we don’t know the first thing about him,” McKay said. “The idea was — who is this guy? We treated it like a mystery: ‘Here’s a guy who didn’t want to be known.’ ”
What particularly fascinated McKay about Cheney and his wife was the fact they were so human and recognizable to start—sharp people from hardscrabble backgrounds who wanted what every American wants. “It really starts, in a lot of ways, like the American Dream, and you see how it changes as the years go through. We were amazed by how the American Dream became, I wouldn’t say, the American Nightmare, but it became a quest for ambition and power,” he reflected. “And the life of the Cheneys synced up with this change that’s happened in America over the last 40 years.”
Gaining weight and disappearing beneath impressive hair and makeup, Oscar winner Bale looks to deliver yet another stunning transformation, opposite Steve Carell’s Donald Rumsfeld, and recent Oscar winner Sam Rockwell’s George W. Bush. But while Bale’s boldness and commitment were commended by Adams, it was Lynne who stole the show. Ironically, while Vice centers on the puppeteer pulling the strings behind the scenes, Cheney turns out to have strings of this own.
Seeing the film for the first time just two days ago, Adams marveled at the similarities she’d found between herself and her character, as she set out on the project. “Her ancestors came over on the Mormon train; I was raised Mormon. There’s this pioneering spirit that my immediate relatives have that her family has. They all had this hope of an American dream, of finding Zion—the Mormon Mecca,” the actress said. “For me, finding my way into Lynne, it actually felt like I knew her.”
As for Annapurna’s If Beale Street Could Talk, writer-director Barry Jenkins, breakout star KiKi Layne, editors Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders, and DP James Laxton were all in attendance Saturday. In the director’s follow-up to 2017 Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight, he brings a longtime passion project to fruition, adapting James Baldwin’s novel of the same name. Led by Stephan James and Layne, the poignant romantic drama centers on Tish, a 19-year-old African-American woman in ‘70s Harlem, whose dreams of a family seem to crumble when she becomes pregnant, and the man she loves is shipped off to prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Speaking with Deadline’s Pete Hammond, Jenkins discussed the trip to Europe during the summer of 2013 which birthed two scripts: for Moonlight and Beale Street. He touched on the “blessing in disguise” of not having the rights to the novel up front, and the importance of approaching the project with “an extreme fidelity to the essence of Mr. Baldwin,” a point echoed in the remarks of the film’s below-the-line artists.
Jenkins’ latest functions equally well as a lyrical tone poem—a romance for the ages—and a well-observed social critique, examining the corruption of police and the criminal justice system, and the place of race in both. For Jenkins, it’s this sort of duality that defines Beale Street and its author.
“One of my obsessions with Mr. Baldwin was [with] the duality of his two voices. He’s on one hand this essentialist, a romantic who writes about love and passion in relationships in a very searing way. But he also was one of the most pointed social and cultural critics—in particular, [with] criticism of how a government affects its citizens, and the things that we should all be doing as citizens to improve our government,” he said. “In this story, through Tish and Fonny’s love story and the circumstances that befall them, you see both those voices fuse in a really lovely way.”
Produced by Plan B’s Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner—along with McKay and his Gary Sanchez partners Will Ferrell and Kevin Messick—Vice is scheduled for release on Christmas Day. Premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, Beale Street will arrive November 30.