Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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This is the movie to beat at the Oscars. “Vice” is a biopic about Vice President Dick Cheney.

But the headline here is the performance of Christian Bale.

I remember when we used to be impressed that Robert De Niro gained weight to play the aging Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull.” We hailed him as the greatest actor of our times, putting so much into his role.

But Christian Bale may have raised the bar. Keep in mind, we’re talking about the handsome British actor who played Batman and his svelte alter ego Bruce Wayne. In 2004, he lost 63 pounds for his role in the psychological thriller “The Machinist.” Then six months later, he gained back 100 pounds to star in “Batman Begins.”

And then in 2010 he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for “The Fighter,” where he dropped from his normal 185 pounds to an emaciated 122 pounds to play the drug-addled character Dicky Ecklund.

So it should be no surprise that he added 40 pounds to his usual frame to play the former Republican Vice President.

The 44-year-old actor says he’d never worked with a nutritionist or doctor to gain weight before, but he decided to do so for this role. “So, I went to somebody, and they managed to get me up a good 40 pounds,” he says. “It’s never healthy to put on that amount of weight in a short amount of time, but I did it in the healthiest manner.”

That is to say, he ate pie. “You eat a lot of pies. You eat whatever’s handy,” laughs Bale.

In “Vice,” he is totally unrecognizable – balding head, bespectacled, portly build, gruff voice – as himself. But he has effectively transformed himself into the spitting image of Dick Cheney.

Here, we see George W. Bush (played by Sam Rockwell) ask Cheney to be his “vice.”

He responds, “The vice presidency is a mostly symbolic job. However, if we came to a different understanding, I can handle the more mundane jobs: overseeing bureaucracy, military, energy and foreign policy.”

Bush thinks that’s a great idea, thus giving Cheney more power than any VP in US history.

“Vice” currently is squeaking onto screens in time to be an Oscar contender. You can catch it this week at Tropic Cinema.

With “Vice,” Bale is reuniting with director Adam McKay (who also wrote the screenplay). They worked together on “The Big Short.”

And Bale is working again with his “American Hustle” co-star, Amy Adams. She plays the vice president’s wife, Lynne Cheney.

A good choice, in that Adams has the look.

I used to see Lynne Cheney when I worked at Reader’s Digest. Lynne Cheney served on the board. We could always tell when she was on the RDA campus by the line of black Secret Service cars circling the big brick building in “Pleasantville.”

Expect “Vice” to pick up several Oscar nods – including a Best Actor nomination for Christian Bale. We moviegoers like it when an actor goes that extra inch – uh, make that extra pound – for his role.

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