Published on December 21st, 2018 | by Dan Nicholls0
Headlines will no doubt make big deal of another physical transformation by Christian Bale, but does Vice, “The Dick Cheney movie,” make for thoughtful entertainment?
From his humble beginnings as a drunk-driving ne’er-do-well to his claiming of one of the highest offices in the world, every rung on Dick Cheney’s ladder is surgically eviscerated in Vice. It almost feels like the film was edited with the sharp edge of a samurai sword and was assembled with fury and vigor. But if there’s a detriment to this precision it’s that the emotional drive gets lost along the way. For all the shouting and shaming there’s not much to take away from Vice other than some crooked people did some crooked things and it would all be unbelievable if it weren’t all true.
The headlines will talk about Christian Bale’s dramatic body transformation but it’s far more impressive how he gets behind the eyes and the sneer of big Dick Cheney. Even if the audience doesn’t know what’s necessarily driving Dick at every point, it’s clear the performance is attuned to a sinister wavelength. You almost always expect to throw Bale’s name into the mix when discussing Oscars and awards but his work here alone would’ve guaranteed him consideration any year.
It’s difficult to single out one of the supporting players over the other, but Amy Adams gets the juiciest and most rewarding part as Lynne Cheney, Dick’s Lady Macbeth-ish wife. Sam Rockwell manages to somehow impersonate the dopey George W. Bush public persona while giving the man a private soul. The brash, obscene Donald Rumsfeld is played here for nothing but laughs by the always-reliable Steve Carell.
Vice nearly feels like the second chapter in a series of films about American greed from Adam McKay. The writer-director won a screenplay Oscar for The Big Short; that 2015 film would make for a nice double feature with Vice as they’re both structurally, thematically, and visually similar. McKay has never lost that eye for perfect comedy timing that he honed with Will Ferrell pictures like Step Brothers and Talladega Nights but from performances to production design and every technical category in between, he has improved as a filmmaker capable of assembling the right team for the right job.
The dialogue is whip-smart and the onslaught of information is easily more digestible than in The Big Short. Vice’s over-reliance on narration becomes a bit tiring after a while as you begin to wonder what it would be like to have been shown instead of told these details, however. It’s like a mixed-media collage – multiple disparate elements have come together to paint us a picture of what this man’s life was. It’s mostly successful, though MacKay’s meta commentary and fourth-wall-breaking hinders more than it helps.
There is a whole lot of anger breathing behind each scene but it ultimately has no place to go and no thesis to arrive at. It’s the feature film version of Grandpa Simpson shaking his fist at a cloud. Despite the troublesome aspects of its execution Vice is just so damn entertaining that you’re able to enjoy the show for the surface features alone. It’s sharp, funny, and dramatically effective when it needs to be. If nothing else Vice will be a conversation starter even if it doesn’t totally stop your heart.