Written and directed by Adam McKay, whose previous film The Big Short brilliantly dramatised the 2008 global financial crisis, 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.

"Back then, they would have called a guy like him a ne'er-do-well. In today's parlance, they would just call him a dirt bag," explains Kurt.

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.

"I love you, Lynne," implores Dick.

"Then prove it!" she barks.

In response, 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.

Haunted by his wife's words - "When you have power, people will try to take it from you. Always" - Dick positions allies such as Rumsfeld, Scooter Libby (Justin Kirk) and legal counsel David Addington (Don McManus) in key positions.

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.