Film Review – Vice

Directed: Adam McKay

Writer: Adam McKay

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell 

Tagline: “Power is one hell of a vice”

Trivia: This is the first movie in which the focus is on a real-life US Vice President who did not officially become President; in 2002 and 2007 President Bush had a colonoscopy, which made Cheney acting President for a short time.

Growing up in a house where history was the main topic of conversation around the dinner table (my father being a History professor) loving biopic and historic movies comes as a second nature to me.

The central function of biopics is supposedly to deepen our understanding of the subject but unfortunately Vice never comes close to it. We are left with the same mysticism about who Dick Cheney is as we had at the start of the movie.

Vice employs much of the same postmodern gimmickry as Adam McKay’s previous movie, The Big Short: there are fantasy sequences, fourth wall-breaking monologues, ironic voiceovers and even a burst of Shakespearean dialogue. But it’s more focused because it concentrates on the life of one intriguing, almost legendary man. 

MacKay sets himself to a formidable challenge – a revealing portrait of a man who habitually revealed nothing: ruthlessly ambitious political animal and former US vice-president Dick Cheney (Christian Bale). But as numerous colleagues and opponents would no doubt concur, Cheney is a tricky man to pin down.

In any biopic movie, writers need to choose on which period to focus in order to get the best story. One of the key problems of Vice is that Cheney is not focusing on the important part of his life, Cheney’s time in the White House.

McKay offers a loose opening of half-hour that doesn’t add much to the story. We know that we’re here for the Bush years, and so Cheney’s drunken youth and his years with Nixon have an unintended air of wheel-spinning prologue.

The desire to interrogate how Cheney impacted politics in the years before Dubya (Bush the 2nd) asked him to be his running mate is a notable one, but McKay goes way too much into it that we end up feeling as if he is trying to give us a TED talk instead of a movie.

The factual beats are all there, but we don’t get the “why” or “why should we care” that’s missing.

This attempt to create a story on a man that has done much in order to stay in the dark is increasingly evident later in the picture. There are moments in the third act that Vice loses all narrative structure and becomes a bullet-pointed list of crimes and outrages.

The main problem in Vice is the lack of dramatizing. Facts and figures are not enough to make a story into a drama. You need to examine the character’s emotions and actions at a certain point and that is missing.

While Christian Bale is giving us another superb performance (together with an amazing makeup team), Cheney’s wife, Lynne ,is played by Amy Adams, as an all-American Lady Macbeth with a performance that vibrates with bitterness and determination.

She easily hurdles any Republican Wife clichés and, as her husband’s career comes home in ways you might not expect, she increasingly becomes the film’s conscience — or lack thereof. Just for these two performances the movie is worth watching. 

However, despite Christian Bale’s spellbinding impression of Cheney (in which he captures his crooked smile and his growling diction with eerie precision), there is simply no insight into the man’s mind or heart. The viewer is given little to work with in understanding what fuelled the rise and the work of Bush’s puppet-master.

Verdict 3/5 Stars in my book


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