Vice Movie Review
Adam McKay (Oscar winner for best screenplay for The Big Short) has written and directed this ambitious, dazzling biopic of Dick Cheney’s career rise to vice president under George W. Bush’s two term presidency. Cheney, considered one of the most influential and powerful VP’s to ever hold the job was determined to not be a placeholder when elected to second in command. Pushed to better himself, by his ambitious wife Lynn (Amy Adams) especially after he is kicked out of Yale and has two DWI’s as a young man, Cheney (Christian Bale) becomes pure ambition. Christian Bale, is completely unrecognizable as the “iron ass” – as George H. W. Bush called Cheney. He gives an amazing, award worthy performance. It is a complete and startling transformation. Adams, who has already tallied up five Oscar nominations, without a win, is also great. Her Lynn Cheney is a motherly, shrewd power hungry fox, who presents a face of grace and decorum even though she will do anything to get ahead. Both deserve nominations for this film.
Part satire, part black comedy, part documentary, part propaganda, part art house collage, Vice is a highly original, cinematic work of art, that defies definition and classification. It’s brave and it breaks rules, just like its main character. McKay gets away with it all, just like, unfortunately the elusive, bulldog Cheney, who like or not, changed American History forever. Cheney had many things, but charm and humor don’t seem to be two of them. Like Macbeth, whose line of dialogues are actually spoken in a bedroom scene between Lynn an Dick, Cheney is powered by an ambitious woman and minions who hope to gain something from his rise. Cheney’s most trusted ally and war hungry pal is Donald Rumsfeld, played with vigor and a wink by the talented Steve Carell. Oscar winner Sam Rockwell, although not bearing much resemblance to the real Bush (43) turns in a canny, funny performance of the clueless, yet likeable leader who allows Cheney to grab the power.
Dick Cheney, despite his ruthlessness and his carelessness with lives (Iraqi War), loved his family, and scenes of his family gatherings and fatherly love normalize him, but don’t necessarily create empathy for him. If anything they display the banality of his evil and his duplicity, especially as he publicly condemns gay marriage, while secretly supporting his daughter Mary (Allison Pill) who is gay. The apple doesn’t fall from the tree, and later after Cheney has left office his other daughter Liz (Lilly Rabe) throws her sister Mary under the bus as she proclaims that she doesn’t support gay marriage on television while running for the senate of her home state of Wyoming. She lost that election but currently is the sole congressional representative from Wyoming in congress. This underscores one of the film’s major themes, that there is always a price for power; integrity, family loyalty, and foreigners’ lives just being a few.
Another thesis of the film is the idea of unitary executive power which is used to give the president powers without congressional, or judiciary approval, much like that of a dictator or monarch. Cheney used this as a governing ideology, influencing Bush and using it to go to war against Iraq after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. He apparently gets this idea from the bombing of Cambodia, authorized by Nixon in 1969 without congressional approval. How factual the film is, is up to debate, but the storytelling, complete with breaking the fourth wall, a dead unreliable narrator, a fake credit sequence, elliptical and a-chronological structure is energetic and outrageous, successfully reaping laughter a minute before infusing the audience in terror. It’s clear McKay thought Cheney was an evil, dangerous amoral leader who benefited financially from the Iraqi war. It’s frightening to see how powerful he was, considering he isn’t particularly likeable and he was only the vice president.
Vice is not for everyone, especially for those who like traditional storytelling. It sometimes feels like McKay is in his basement in high school and so “pumped” about making his first film, that he throws in everything but the kitchen sink. Some of the visual metaphors are real stinkers, (like the teacups). However, more often you will be enthralled by his virtuoso imagination and his commitment to telling this disturbing, yet wildly entertaining story.