Review: Vice

Director: Adam McKay
Nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture, Screenplay, Director and Makeup.
Vice is playing at the Historic Theater at on March 26th.

In a time where the world seems pretty polarizing, Vice offers the viewer even more paranoia and fear in the government. This film tells (the pretty harsh) story of how college dropout Dick Cheney went from the drunk tank in Wyoming to Chief of Staff in the White House (and beyond) in less than 15 years. An incredible feat but this film doesn’t celebrate it. It is told as a type of biopic film and even goes as far as to say that it is “based on true events” but because Cheney is famously extremely secretive, “we did the best…we could.” Instead of glorifying a man who worked himself from nothing, it points a floodlight on his actions while serving in his various roles and what it took to get him to the top. Vice portrays Dick as someone who may not have begun with as much but found ambition and didn’t care who he had to step on to move forward. His relationship with Donald Rumsfeld takes a hot seat as does the decision to serve as Vice President under Bush. A “symbolic job” he had no interest in until he figured a way to have a hand in the cookie jar—overseeing multiple offices that isn’t typically “the vice president’s job.” This movie is a mix of things. It is both interesting and flawed. The performances are both impressive and yet cartoonish. The inconsistency of the storytelling is tough to wrap one’s head around. Director Adam McKay (The Big Short) uses a lot of the same moments he has previously to add texture to what would otherwise be a traditional biopic. While the story is told in chronological order, the audience is taken on several detours: from a dinner party where they discuss torture techniques, to a Shakespearian soliloquy delivered (quite well I might add) by Dick and his wife Lynne, to multiple camera shots of Dick fishing (perhaps a bit too on the nose). This structure adds some texture but makes the movie feel like it’s 8 hours long instead of the 2 it runs. This means that by the time the audience actually sees Cheney become VP, they are starting to lose focus. The choices of content are also uneven. There is a large amount about Cheney’s obsession with the Unitary Executive Theory (which, after 2 hours I still don’t quite get) but fails to focus any amount of story to his time at Halliburton.

This is not to say the movie isn’t well made. McKay knows how to use his unusual storytelling techniques and while some land (the unmasking of the narrator), many others fail to capture. The script is interesting to listen to but is a bit too on the nose at moments, such as when Cheney describes himself as a “brass tacks guy.” Performances are strong: Bale seems to really capture Cheney’s blank stare and speech patterns but the prosthetics and Batman-esque voice help him out a great deal. Amy Adams is strong and ambitious as Lynne Cheney and pulls no punches as the woman who really pushed Dick to where he was. It should be said that it was nice to see a portrayal of a woman who wasn’t afraid to walk beside her husband instead of behind him. Sam Rockwell, who I always enjoy, is almost a caricature of Bush, playing him too buffoonish and clueless to be taken seriously. Steve Carell…it’s hard to look at him and not think “Oh, it’s Steve Carell.”

Vice is characterized as a “comedy-drama” but you could have fooled me. I perhaps chuckled once. Most of the time the story comes across as too horrifying to think anything is funny, especially in today’s day. Some people ask why this film? Why now? There is a strong resemblance and a similar distrust in democracy as today but perhaps what we are living through now is real enough.