Written and Directed by Adam McKay.
Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe, Tyler Perry, Justin Kirk, LisaGay Hamilton, Shea Whigham, Eddie Marsan, Fay Masterson, Bill Camp, Don McManus, Bob Stephenson, Jillian Armenante, Abigail Marlowe, and Jamie Bernadette.
The story of Dick Cheney, an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.
Continuing his move away from outright comedy, Adam McKay follows up 2015’s The Big Short with a scathing critique of Dick Cheney (Bale) who many believe is responsible for the rise of the far right TV networks of the US, rollbacks on energy reform, the invasion of Iraq and the torture of many. For those with left leaning ideals (like myself) it is a wonderful critique of corruption and power. For those more inclined to a different political persuasion, it is polarising to say the least.
Charting the rise of Dick Cheney from layabout drunk to ambitious intern, to Secretary of Defence and ultimately Vice President, McKay’s script crackles with intensity as the action flips between early life and the decisions taken by Cheney on 9/11. Watching the rise of one of the most powerful men who’s ever walked the halls of the White House is terrifying, yet McKay packs the film with enough black comedy that you can’t help but be enraptured. At times it’s shocking that this is real life, but as stated at the beginning of the film Cheney was a private individual and as filmmakers they “tried their fucking best”. Vice clearly has an agenda to be anti-Cheney, but based on the evidence of his behaviour throughout his career it would have been nearly impossible to make an unbiased film.
In his latest transformation, Christian Bale has put on 45 pounds and been layered in prosthesis to play Cheney. An actor known for pushing his body to the limits, this is one of the rare times that it’s not distracting and Bale has completely disappeared into a character. The ticks and nuances that those who’ve watched Cheney on the news are familiar with are all on display. His performance is quiet, even tempered and mesmerising. A final moment of fourth wall breaking shouldn’t work and yet somehow with Bale’s delivery it is a searing finale to an unusual film. Supporting Bale is Amy Adams as devoted with Lynne Cheney who only gets a few interesting scenes and a number of others including Steve Carrell, Tyler Perry, and Sam Rockwell doing a solid George W Bush impression. The supporting cast all deliver solid performances, but it’s in Bale’s measured performance that the film rests. Cheney’s voice was monotone and he was always a quiet man, thinking and plotting; to translate that into film is an impressive feat.
Stylistically, Vice is unusual at times. There are fourth wall breaks, a fake out credits sequence halfway through, Alfred Molina as a waiter reading off the list of options the government can take to circumvent the law and Naomi Watts appearing as a news anchor. Some of these tricks work and add to the darkly comic spin that McKay is aiming for. One standout moment is a Shakespearean soliloquy between Dick and Lynne in place of a conversation that no one heard. It’s absurd and yet somehow fits with the absurdity of the real life situation. Similarly the narrative device courtesy of Jesse Plemons is a bit of a curve ball.
Vice is like no other biopic that you’ve seen. It is cynical, there is no heart in it and its focus is on someone who is considered to be one of the most evil men in history. Yet still it is enjoyable to watch, like watching a ludicrous play happening in front of you that’s part car crash, part political drama and part comedy. It is a unique creation from McKay with a career best performance from Bale.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★