Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 12 min.
Release Date: December 25th, 2018 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Adam McKay Actors: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Alison Pill, Tyler Perry
he following is a true story. Or as true as it can be, given that Dick Cheney is known as one of the most secretive leaders in history.” So states “Vice,” beginning in Casper, Wyoming in 1963, during a drinking and driving incident in which Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) is pulled over. The film then fast-forwards to the September 11th attacks, where Cheney quietly assumes a significant level of control in the Presidential situation room. Shifting again, this time into the realm of a documentary, a narrator (Jesse Plemons) elucidates various elements surrounding Cheney, including his originations, his schooling episodes (such as getting thrown out of Yale), his failures with various careers, and his familial complications – involving wife Lynne (Amy Adams), and daughters Mary (Alison Pill) and Liz (Lily Rabe).
“Beware the quiet man.” The film proceeds to blend documentary stylings, such as archival footage, montages of scenery, title and slogan graphics flashing onscreen, and replications of old home videos, to chronicle Cheney’s personal life and his rise through the ranks of government. During the Congressional Internship Program in 1968, Dick sees Donald “Rummy” Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), whom he immediately idolizes. This new association transforms Cheney into a yes-man and lackey, in perpetual pursuit of becoming a dedicated and humble servant to power. He even chooses to be a Republican, simply because that’s Rumsfeld’s party.
By 1973, Dick assumes the role of a political consultant for a major firm. As a significant D.C. insider, his knowledge and connections grow until he’s virtually at the top; as the film jumps around in time periods, it’s not long before Cheney is the Vice President of the United States. Of course, with the back-and-forth structuring, every milestone is short-lived; one minute, Cheney is appointed Chief of Staff, the next he’s watching Nixon resign, and the next his run for Congress is interrupted by heart problems. This film is obviously intended to entertain as much as to inform (perhaps more so), which means that continuity and the ability for the audience to follow a timeline isn’t as important as making them laugh – or grimace.
As the world becomes more and more confusing, people tend to focus on the things right in front of them, rather than the things that actually shape their lives. As the narrator explains, no one is terribly interested in complicated analyses of governmental regulations and foreign policies. And so, “Vice” opts for plentiful humor as it details Cheney’s sometimes sordid, always complicated history. This is much less a traditional biography than a larger-than-life, hyperbole-laden, sarcasm-filled, metaphor-brimming political spoof – much like writer/director Adam McKay’s previous diatribe on bureaucratic corruption, “The Big Short.”
“The Vice President is a nothing job. The V.P. just sits around and waits for the President to die.” While the film does a tremendous job of turning intricate yet monotonous governmental underpinnings into morbidly hilarious misadventures, its cast is the main appeal. Bale is phenomenal in the lead, once again physically mutating himself into the image of someone considerably different than his own natural image. He’s joined by Adams, who also gains and loses pounds and years through makeup and costuming, along with Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, and several other recognizable actors (from Tyler Perry to Eddie Marsan) in the roles of potent political players. Their abilities to mimic their counterparts are similarly outstanding, donning mannerisms and accents and fashions to complete their extensive disappearances into the various personas of iconic elites.
“The Geneva Convention is open to interpretation.” All of the attention to visual details certainly helps to distract from the infuriating nature of the information, which is an onslaught of maddeningly upsetting revelations on corruption. Fortunately, most of the exasperating material is peppered with incredibly clever skits to demonstrate the malleability of the public, convenient clarifications of the law (by dubious lawyers), and sacrifices of values for greed and self-serving gain. “Vice” is as insightful as it is colorful, and as cinematically entertaining as it is provocative. Curiously, however, since this unconventional, bitterly ironic comic approach was done before by this same filmmaker – tackling an equally serious subject – its originality is noticeably lacking. But as a companion piece to “The Big Short,” “Vice” is thoroughly competent.
– Mike Massie