Film Review: “Vice”

Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s VICE, an Annapurna Pictures release. Credit : Annapurna Pictures 2018 © Annapurna Pictures, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Christian Bale, Amy Adams deliver solid performances as Dick and Lynne Cheney in Adam McKay’s comedic take on the former vice president’s political career 

By Kyle Roe

Adam McKay’s newest comedic endeavor “Vice” is definitely not a typical vehicle for punchlines and wry fourth-wall breaking narration. It’s technically a comedy-drama that tackles the turbulent and boundary-jumping vice presidency, and less well-publicized early political career and post-college antics of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale). Along with 2015’s “The Big Short,” “Vice” is the only other feature film of McKay’s that isn’t a pure comedy (“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” also fits this first category) and goes after the powers-that-be who, he argues, contributed to the corruption, lack of oversight, and downright greed that set America on course for a disastrous future.

Very few films, if any, manage to capture an entire life in even a few hours of film, and McKay realizes this. His tone is very cut to the chase, much like Cheney’s demeanor as a man of few words, but without the former vice president’s spare-ness that’s so often amplified by the weight of words unspoken. “Vice” is more an introductory course with far too much material to tap into and too few students pursuing it past end of the semester.

Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.

McKay’s humor and wit shine through on its own, but it does so forcefully thanks to the formidable talent of “Vice’s” cast. Amy Adams delivers a fantastic performance as Lynne Cheney. She strikes gold from the monologue she administers to a hungover Cheney—fresh out of jail for a DWI not long after dropping out of Yale—demanding he pulls his life together, to the savvy political advice she provides during her and the former VP’s golden years. Scenarios range from whether Cheney should run as George W. Bush’s VP, (“The Vice President is a nothing job,” she ironically quips, inspiring Cheney to bend both tradition and the U.S. Constitution) to if Liz Cheney should betray her sister Mary by opposing gay marriage in her bid for the House of Representatives (she does).

In an unlikely casting choice for any other director, Steve Carell plays Donald Rumsfeld, both Gerald Ford and George W. Bush’s (but really Cheney’s) Secretary of Defense. Carell’s constant bombardment of fragility and ridiculousness fits perfectly with Rumsfeld’s ruthless, yet unfortunate political persona.

One of the least liked American politicians of that era, Carell puts a hapless face on the man who, for example, helped launch the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and oversaw abuses and torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, but also mentored Cheney early in his career. The student obviously surpassed the master, and Cheney went from working as Rumsfeld’s aide to forcing him to resign in 2006.

Of course, Bale is superb as Dick Cheney. The actor is known for modifying his body for roles, which makes it less surprising that he matches the former VP’s body type on-camera. His performance is immersive, and he captures Cheney’s mannerisms and body language to a tee, albeit in a smooth and stylized way. It almost seems too comfortable at times but works exceedingly well on the screen in capturing Cheney’s essence. Perhaps how the former VP felt, expressed physically.

Even before considering that McKay’s past filmography is almost exclusively comedies in the line of “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights,” and “Step Brothers,” “Vice” is a fantastic film with an outstanding cast and script. It doesn’t spread itself too thin with too little time, a pitfall a lot of biopics fall into, but doesn’t run too long. It’s a searing, yet funny, take on one of the most controversial politicians of our time that knows how to not pull punches or take itself too seriously.

“Vice” opens in theaters on Dec. 25. 

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