Directed by Adam McKay
“Vice” presented the best-acted villain seen on the big screens in 2018. After gaining forty pounds, and losing all semblance of his real-life self, Christian Bale effortlessly slips into a portrayal of the lumbering, slow-talking, seedy former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Covering a timeline ranging from his DUI college dropout days to basically the present day, “Vice” digs deep into Cheney’s obsession with legally shaky authoritarian power-grabs and his complicated family dynamic (eventually ostracizing his gay daughter for political reasons) in an effort to show that Cheney is (and has always been) a real Dick. Director Adam McKay’s political intentions are pretty clear—remind Americans that while President Trump is an idiot, Dick Cheney was a monster—but that doesn’t make the facts any less true.
The best recent biopics—“Jackie” and “First Man” come to mind—show Americans a small window of time into a figure’s life. McKay clearly felt that showing Cheney’s past would help us better understand his term as VP—so he tries to cram every shitty thing Cheney has ever done into two hours. I think a smaller timeframe would’ve helped the film. Instead, the movie jumps around quite a bit, shrinking long and important conversations into quick snippets with loaded dialogue. There’s a lot of quick back-and-forths that give us all the information in too small of a window. Sometimes, “Vice” seems more interested in showing us what Cheney did instead of who Cheney was. That’s a critical failure.
However, McKay’s (“The Big Short”) unique way of framing his recent historical movies is tough to dislike. He injects comedy in ways that highlight how ridiculously, cartoonishly cruel Cheney could be. McKay toys with his audiences in ways that few directors have the ability—or desire—to (his fake-out alternate ending about halfway through the movie is one of the year’s funniest movie scenes). Sure, he takes some “Room Where it Happened” liberties, assuming things that nobody except Cheney himself could actually know for sure, but it helps convey the broader point. The facts speak for themselves, and despite being a dramatic account of Cheney’s life, there are plenty of verifiable truths. I also greatly enjoy the way McKay uses Cheney’s fly fishing for symbolic effect, and his ingenious choice of who should narrate the film. Beyond Bale’s Oscar-nominated performance, “Vice” also draws out good performances from Amy Adams (playing Cheney’s wife Lynne), Steve Carrell (as Donald Rumsfeld) and Sam Rockwell (in a surprisingly limited role, as George W. Bush).
“Vice” tracks the journey Dick Cheney took from offensive lineman (he played football, but what I’m talking about is his time as an electrical lineman who was just really shitty to people) to VPOTUS. Sometimes, it works like a charm—informative, entertaining, and dramatic. Other times, it skims past meaty scenes and threatens to make a caricature out of Cheney instead of showing him as a person—a person we should hate and fear. Unlike many critics, though, I thought “Vice” was a respectable follow-up to the terrific “The Big Short” and I hope that McKay keeps packaging stories that might seem boring or rage-inducing into fun movies you’ll want to see in a movie theater.