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Directed by: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Justin Kirk, Jesse Plemons, Shea Whigham, Tyler Perry, Alfred Molina, Naomi Watts
Rated: R for Language and Some Violent Images
Running Time: 2 h 12 m
TMM Score: 3.5 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Acting, Directing, Some Writing
WEAKNESSES: Some Writing, Ending, Heavy-Handedness
The story of Dick Cheney, the most powerful Vice President in American History, and the way he forever changed the Global political landscape.
This film opens with a title card that says the following:
The following is a true story.
Or as true as it can be given that Dick Cheney is known as one of the most secretive leaders in history.
But we did our f*cking best.
That title card immediately told me to take everything in this film with a grain of salt, because obviously some of the stuff we see in this movie is a heavily stylized. Whenever I watch movies based on true stories, regardless of if they claim to be factually correct or not, I find myself Googling the accuracy as I go along (provided I’m watching the film in the comfort of my own home- I’m not a monster that sits on my phone in a theater). For some films, like Downfall (2004), a lot of the stuff in the film is accurate, and the way it is presented seems almost like we’re getting a peek back through time.
Vice is not one of those films where it’s easy to just accept what’s going on in front of you. Vice proclaims its message loud and noisily, with plenty of distractions and pizzazz; it feels like a biopic for the ADD era. In some ways I loved what McKay was doing, and in other ways I found myself growing irritated. The film constantly barrages the viewer with overlapping metaphors, and towards the end of the movie, it felt as if McKay was scrambling to try to fit in as many Dick stories as he could, to the point where some parts were so glossed over and surface level I wondered why he chose to even put those scenes in the film at all? This is certainly an interesting story, one that is pretty impossible to ignore (it sure made me angry), but as far as filmmaking goes, I found it to be a just above average biopic.
I’m not going to try to weed out what’s true and what’s not. I’m sure there are a hundred other articles with people far more qualified and informed than I that could spell those details out for you (I like politics, but I wasn’t as into them in the W. Bush era as I am now- I was ten when W. Bush was first elected). I will be looking at this film primarily from the perspective of a Cinephile.
“It has been my honor to be your servant. You chose me.”
Vice chronicles Dick Cheney’s (Christian Bale, Batman Begins (2005)) tumultuous rise to power from his start as an intern under Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrell, Beautiful Boy (2018)) to his Vice Presidency under George W Bush (Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)). The film also takes a look at Cheney’s personal life in relation to his wife Lynne Chaney (Amy Adams, Arrival (2016)) and his daughters Mary (Alison Pill, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)) and Liz (Lily Rabe, Fracture (2019)).
McKay’s style in this film feels a lot like his style in the film that won him his Oscar, The Big Short (2015), which focused on the events leading up to the mortgage-housing crisis of 2008. In both films, McKay seems to realize that people will come at these topics with some knowledge, but that knowledge might be rather limited; and, in both films, McKay takes the time to try to explain the implications of the events transpiring before us. For the most part it works. Politicking is a messy game; there are lots of unknown variables, lots of parties fighting to get what they want, so I appreciate that McKay tries to explain the consequences and connections that we might not have grasped right away. He is able to explain without feeling like he’s talking down to us, and he also makes the content compelling and easy to digest.
There are some sequences where I felt as if the way McKay was showing these details was meant more to entertain than to convey what actually happened, and those were the scenes where the movie sort of lost me. For instance, in one scene a group of politicians are ordering dinner from a waiter (played by Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2 (2004)), only the menu is filled with war crimes that the politicians insist on committing after the 9/11 attacks; the scene feels… awkwardly done, in my opinion. It’s so intent on vilifying these people that it forgets to take into account that these are real people. They made horrible decisions because they reacted to a horrible tragedy. What they did was undoubtedly terrible, but I’m sure the decisions they made were done so gravely; they probably didn’t giggle to themselves about how they were torturing and detaining people. I know I’ve already brought this movie up before, but look at Downfall (2004); that film is able to look at one of the most evil men ever to walk this Earth, but it does so in a way that humanizes him and the people around him. Humanizing villains makes them more tragic, which something that I believe McKay was going for, but didn’t ultimately achieve.
Acting is probably the best part of this film. Christian Bale won a Golden Globe for this role (and then he thanked Satan for the inspiration on how to play Chaney), and was nominated for an Oscar (coincidentally his second nomination under McKay’s direction- The Big Short being the other film). Bale underwent another crazy body transformation; after filming Hostiles (2017) he gained forty-five pounds for this role and then immediately had to loose seventy pounds to depict Ken Miles in the upcoming Ford v Ferrari (2019). I can’t imagine that much weight fluctuation is healthy, but hey, you do your method acting thing Bale… you crazy kid, you. Amy Adams was great, per usual. I feel like she always gives a fantastic performance, and this was no difference. Sam Rockwell was good too; though I’m not quite sure why he was nominated for an Oscar. I didn’t think he was nearly as remarkable as some of the other supporting performances this year (like Daniel Kaluuya in Widows (2018)). Steve Carrell was good too. I’m glad he’s gotten away from the Michael Scott persona and people are taking him seriously as an actor, because he has some real chops.
I think my biggest problem with the film was the way that it ended. The movie felt as if it stretched on a little too long, and the insinuation that the final sequence gives us is incredibly obvious. It almost feels as if the last ten minutes of this film is just beating a dead horse, going over the same things we already know, and needlessly wrapping up some subplots that weren’t nearly as interesting as the main storyline.
As a whole this is an entertaining film. There are some fantastic performances, and some scenes that I absolutely loved, but there were too many details that felt improperly handled for me to give this a better review. This movie is absolutely worth your time, particularly if have an interest in politics. I’m sure this isn’t the most accurate portrayal of what it’s like inside the US government, but it’s probably the best Dick Cheney biopic we’ll ever get.
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