A satirical yet poignant story of Dick Cheney’s political career, Vice sends a powerful message of where America stands then and now.
Adam McKay continues his strong career with Vice. Coming off an academy award winning film like The Big Short, McKay seems to be the perfect director to take on a film like this. On a real world level, nothing about Dick Cheney’s life or political choices are funny. The man brought more evil into the world than good and contributed to the loss of many innocent lives during his time in office. That being said, the concept of Vice is to take a harrowing subject matter and putting it into a satirical lens. While this film does not come together as well as 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, it has many similar method on making disturbing historical events more digestible for a worldwide audience.
Christian Bale shines as Dick Cheney. Completely transforming his body and appearance to match the former Vice President, Vice is given an authentic feel with how well Bale plays the politician. Much of the humor comes with Bale’s performance. The sky and cunning nature of Chaney is played off well with Bale seamless performance and each snarl, growth and word coming out of his mouth is well placed. On that same level, Sam Rockwell’s George W. Bush is given a much more naive portrayal. In some ways, Bush is almost played as a sympathetic child who has all the power in the world. Stealing that power like candy from a baby is Dick Cheney’s role. As each act progresses, more power is given to Cheney and Bush comes off weaker than ever. While it is played for laughs at times, it is interesting to compare this to real life events. Finally, Amy Adams proves why she is one of the best actresses in Hollywood and one of the most talented people in the industry. Adams seamlessly plays Lynne Chaney and gives a great balance to the film’s story. Adams is ruthless in her portrayal and one of the show stealers by the end of it.
Vice follows the story of Dick Cheney from the end of his rocky college years, through multiple administrations and finally the Bush administration. It’s a story of uncomfortable truths, and a rise to power through cynical, maniacal ways. Nothing short of a comic book madman’s origin story, (which McKay even jokes about), Dick Cheney is portrayed as a manipulative, psychotic, cunning, sadistic and, as the movie puts it, dirtbag. Every single move he makes from his start as an intern all the way to becoming the most powerful Vice President in history feels uncomfortable and sobering.
My gripes with this film come with the approach from a larger level rather than any individual choices or actors. On a technical level, the film is beautifully put together and each actor fulfills their respective roles well. With the real life events corresponding with this film less than two decades old, there is a larger sense of discomfort placed on the film. While the intentional discomfort works well and McKay shows how diabolical the characters in his film are, it is off-putting to think of the real life counterparts being much worse. Scenes that are played for laughs in this film have harsher consequences in real life. While I wish those consequences were shown more in depth and some or the sympathy shown to Chaney was removed, Vice still does an excellent job telling the story at hand. Moments that retell how the Bush administration handled 9/11, the shady and outright sickening way they subverted the tragedy to start a war and how the bent the constitution to allow for horrifying torture methods, nothing about the Bush/Cheney White House was worth celebrating or encouraging. Instead, parallels are brought to show how it was the influence and fallout of Cheney’s White House president that bred the kind of political discourse we see today.
Overall, Vice is a powerfully divisive film. When it reaches its thesis points and tells the story in its most uncensored way, the film can be completely harrowing. Likewise when some moments are played for laughs to amplify the satirical nature of the film, it helps alleviate the spoonful of medicine the audience gets to remind them how dirty politics can be and how many innocent lives can be thrown away for power. Adam McKay does an excellent job using a staggered storytelling style, unique metaphors and great writing to tell the story of Dick Cheney in a potent yet digestible way. Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Steve Carrell absolutely own their respective roles and did a great job blending the lines between reality and film. In short, Vice is one of the best films of the year.