SHOULD Christian Bale win a best actor Oscar for his portrayal of former US vice-president Dick Cheney – the film is up for eight awards – he may regret peaking too soon on his acceptance speeches. It was at the Golden Globes in January that he thanked “Satan” for giving him inspiration on how to play the role. The joke drew a few gasps as well as laughs, much like Vice as a whole.

Writer-director Adam McKay, long time filmmaking partner to Will Ferrell, has been responsible for some of the most gloriously silly movies in recent years, including Anchorman. He also does a very nice line in satire, skewering the practices that led to the last financial crisis in The Big Short.

Here, he traces Cheney’s silent rise through the Nixon administration ranks and on to the Ford White House, where he had a chance to take part in what he would one day lead: a takeover of the presidency, officially occupied by one George W Bush.

The screenplay zips back and forth from the past to the post 9/11 period, where we can see Cheney’s steady accumulation of power. Cheney did not view the vice-presidency as famously not worth a bucket of warm spit; he saw it as the key to the castle. Once through the door, he could assume, on behalf of the president, absolute power over the executive.

What might be dry fare in another director’s hands fizzes in McKay’s. As in The Big Short, he explains complex concepts in fresh, inventive ways. A soldier details how the Iraq war was sold (Tony Blair might want to miss this bit), diners choose presidential powers from a restaurant menu, and so on. His style is fast and always furious. If you are looking for fairness or balance, keep walking.

Cheney is presented as part of a package with wife Lynne (Amy Adams, nominated for best supporting actress). She is the power beside the throne, and the one who takes the lead after one of their daughters comes out as gay. While the couple are portrayed as supportive, McKay, even here, is unwilling to give them an unqualified pat on the back.

Also in the cast are Oscar-nominated Sam Rockwell, brilliant and almost unrecognisable under the prosthetics as Dubya, and Steve Carell playing to the gallery as Donald Rumsfeld.

Even with the added weight, and all that hair and make-up, there is no mistaking that it is Bale playing the main man. Will he win the Oscar? It would be unwise to ever bet against him. Will Vice be dismissed by the American right as one long liberal whinge about a period now passed? Definitely.

Be sure stay for the closing scene, set in a focus group, and watch McKay get in a last word. Ooft.