Dick Cheney biopic 'Vice' is a wicked satire that messes with the audience and features an outstanding Christian Bale performance
- "Vice" is an unconventional biopic that's one part a look at the life of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and one part a megaphone for director Adam McKay to call out all the things he dislikes about Cheney's time in office.
- If you like all the tricks McKay used in his last movie, "The Big Short," get ready for a lot more of that.
Adam McKay used a unique mix of dark comedy, cameos, and breaking the fourth wall to retell how the housing bubble popped with "The Big Short" (which earned him an Oscar for best adapted screenplay) - and he turned that style up to 11 to tell the life story of former Vice President Dick Cheney.If you're going into "Vice" (in theaters December 25) expecting just a telling of Cheney's life, stay home. This isn't so much a biopic as it is an angry director using the movie to air out all of his issues with Cheney, the George W. Bush administration, and the system as a whole for allowing the US to go into Iraq to chase down fictitious "weapons of mass destruction."
The big BUT here is that this is Adam McKay, the guy behind some of the best Will Ferrell movies, like "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," and "Step Brothers." So he also knows how to entertain the heck out of the audience.
McKay's first trick is the unbelievable casting of Christian Bale as Cheney. After gaining some weight, and the makeup team going to work on him, Bale looks so much like Cheney it's frightening (he gives one of the best performances of the year). Then McKay surrounds Bale with a fantastic supporting cast, including Amy Adams as Cheney's wife, Lynne, Steve Carell as Cheney's mentor, Donald Rumsfeld, and Sam Rockwell as a spot-on George W. Bush. And lastly it's not so much McKay's writing that's the clincher but the work of his editor Hank Corwin.
It's a challenge for the audience to keep up, but that's part of the point. The entire movie messes with the audience as much as it wickedly satirizes the real-life characters it's portraying. McKay isn't leading you into the dark mind of Cheney; he is sprinting through it and hoping you can keep up.
As the movie shows, Cheney's early life wasn't much of an indication of the man he would become. Portrayed as a drunk with no ambition, it's Lynne who turns him around. This leads him to Washington D.C. and to the crude tutelage of Rumsfeld, who is part of the Nixon administration. In that space, Cheney sees his calling as the power behind the throne. Decades later, and rebounding after a couple of heart attacks (Cheney's weak heart is a great comedic element used throughout the movie), Cheney finally gets his big shot when George W. Bush asks him to be his running mate. The Bush/Cheney ticket is capped by a perfectly edited sequence of Cheney luring Bush into his conditions for taking the job (basically having more power than any VP before him) by intercutting scenes of Cheney patiently fly fishing, enticing the fish (Bush) with his shiny bait.
McKay shows the ruthless side of Cheney once the tragic events of September 11, 2001 happen. Taking over the War Room on that faithful day instead of Bush, the movie depicts Cheney as someone who has finally found a way to be above even the government. It shows a shrewd DC player who finds an opportunity even in America's darkest moment.
Though through it all, McKay also portrays Cheney as a devoted family man, who will even set aside the party's views on homosexuality because his daughter, Mary (Alison Pill), is gay. But that's really the only time McKay is willing to give Cheney a break. This is a movie that is unapologetic about how it portrays its lead, who Bale plays with a monotone feel that's darkly comedic.
There are moments you are going to get frustrated, maybe even hate "Vice" for how it will mess with your patience (there's even a moment in the middle of the movie when McKay playfully acts like the movie is over, with end credits appearing). But that's what I found so enjoyable about watching it.
In an era when most movies are test-screened to death and greenlit mainly because the premise has been done so many times that it's proven to make money, McKay gives us a movie (Annapurna Pictures financed and released it) that seems to defy all of that by letting the passion for unique storytelling rule.
So buy the ticket and take the ride. It's not a bad thing to be challenged at the multiplex sometimes.