Movie Review: Vice
R | 2h 12min
Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell
by Jason Koenigsberg
If you are looking to learn more about Dick Cheney, one of the most powerful and controversial Vice Presidents the United States has ever had, you need to look somewhere else. Adam McKay has talented actors at his disposal and does very little with them other than re-enact moments of history that are still fresh in most American’s minds. Christian Bale with the help of some latex and a lot of twinkies does a great impersonation of Dick Cheney, as do the other actors portraying their well-known subjects, but that is all Vice is, a bunch of actors doing good impressions of famous people. Will Ferrell could have done this on Saturday Night Live and it might have been just as good, at the very least it would have been funnier.
Vice opens up with some not so clever text about how Dick Cheney is a very private person so even though the film we are about to see is based on a true story, some liberties were taken. By the end, viewers will realize that a lot of Vice is speculation and not facts. The first shot shows a young Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) drunk and screaming. He then gets arrested in his hometown Casper, Wyoming in 1963. They then immediately cut to Cheney on September 11, 2001, showing him at his lowest point early in life and then later to when he was one of the most powerful men in the world on the date that would define his legacy and America’s future forever. This film proclaims he looked at 9/11 as an opportunity, to make money and take Saddam Hussein out of power. It paints Cheney as the mastermind behind all decisions made under the George W. Bush administration and Cheney knew how to take advantage of ignorant Americans not paying attention to the important events around them.
Vice has choppy editing and jumps decades in seconds. The visual style and sounds of the film make it entertaining at a glance, but beneath that, there is not much to consider. Bale plays Cheney as a man who moves slow, talks with a droll voice throughout, and seizes power unexpectedly. Vice also gives Donald Rumsfeld a lot of credit while simultaneously making the former Secretary of Defense look like a major ass. Steve Carell plays him well, but like Bale, he is mostly just doing an impression of Rumsfeld, not giving us any insight into the character. He makes the most of his role and steals a lot of the scenes he is in. Amy Adams plays Lynne Cheney as a homophobic, racist beeeatch. It makes her out to be the driving force behind a lot of Dick Cheney’s career success. Another portrait of behind every great man is a greater woman.
The performance that really stole every scene is recent Oscar Winner Sam Rockwell as former President George W. Bush. He plays him as a ne’er do well shlub with daddy issues. Vice and recent history both paint W. as a privileged son of a smarter and more successful man. This movie makes it clear that he was a boob that did not know what was going on and Cheney was running the show behind closed doors. Rockwell actually makes his Bush likable and is the only role that felt multifaceted. Perhaps when you are comparing the personalities of Bush with Cheney and Rumsfeld, Dubyah is the nicest and most relatable guy. Politics aside, I actually felt sympathy for the former president.
Vice makes Cheney out to be a power hungry, ruthless tyrant with one exception. His daughter. That is his sole redeeming quality. He loves his daughter even though she is a lesbian which goes against everything he believes in and his political platform. A lot of emphasis is given to Cheney’s heart since he did and still does have significant heart problems. They illustrate his heart in some creative ways but Cheney the man is shown as being heartless… except when it comes to his daughter. Shrewd move by the filmmaker since if he did not love his daughter, he would have zero positive qualities and Vice would be much more excruciating to sit through with an even more despicable main character than he already is. They needed something to make him likable and clung onto that throughout the film. As stated before, most of Vice is based on speculation and hearsay, not facts. Dick Cheney is a private person and we do not know what he is really like with his daughter and wife so those scenes should all be taken with a grain of salt. Vice even implies that his father in law murdered his mother in law, but once again, nobody can prove that.
Director Adam McKay’s visual style and background in humor work out for him in only two scenes. One moment involves fake credits about halfway through the film, and the other is an inspired dinner scene where Alfred Molina plays the waiter. The rest of the humor should have been excised for more depth into these characters and the events that transformed our nation and the world. Vice shows how the damage was done during the years Bush and Cheney were in power still affect us today. He also adds some images that will stay with you from his shot composition. A fly on Dick Cheney’s face visually stating that he is a piece of you know what. A shot of Christian Bale looking so small in his first windowless office in the White House, then later again speaking in front of a big white screen implying that Cheney is always like a blank canvas, he remains unknown to us. We never really get to know his motivations of what makes him tick. Also notable was how the director used fishing as a metaphor of how Cheney lures the American people into getting what he wants. We are the fish and he is the fisherman, plus some of the actual lures are clever when you get a good look at them.
In the end, the viewer may have to ask themselves, “What is the point of this film?”. It sheds no new light on who Dick Cheney really is, Vice skims the surface and a superficial biopic on a subject as influential as Dick Cheney is the last thing that anyone who has paid attention to politics for the last twenty years would be satisfied with. Adam McKay should have gone back to his Anchorman (2004) roots and used Will Ferrell and made Vice into an all-out comedy instead of a year-end prestigious awards-bait film. A political satire of the buffoons that ran the United States under the W. Bush Administration. Instead, Adam McKay filled Vice with a lot of the tactics he used in his previous Oscar-winning film The Big Short (2015). A lot of glib tongue in cheek humor, moments that break the fourth wall. Nothing that we have never seen before. Vice is for people that do not know much about the government and recent US and history, but are those people actually going to want to buy a ticket for a Dick Cheney biopic?
The real political junkies are likely to be unimpressed by what Vice has to say. It looks nice and is entertaining enough, but provides zero factual insight on its subject matter. Perhaps it is still too close to the era that Dick Cheney had all of his power as our country is still feeling the ramifications from decisions he made, but Vice is a superficial portrait of one of America’s most complex political figures. Maybe in time, our nation will reflect more and they can make a better movie about our most influential Vice President.
Skip Vice. If you want to learn more about Dick Cheney read Against All Enemies by Richard A. Clarke or just watch this video embedded below and laugh.