Director: Adam McKayStarring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell
Release Date: December 25, 2018
With about as much subtlety as a Michael Moore production, Vice flirts with a documentary format, but relies too heavily on conjecture. Also… Batman’s really good in this.
You know Adam McKay’s work. McKay is a veteran comedic director/writer responsible for movies such as Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers. In recent years, however, McKay has steered away from over the top comedies. He seems to have a perceived duty to present the American public with political truths, previously unearthed. His 2015 film The Big Short, a film about the 2008 collapse of the housing market, was a success both financially and critically, and showed a David O’Russell-like knack for curating all-star casts.With his follow-up to The Big Short, McKay is once again donning his vigilante filmmaker cape, as he attempts to tell the story of one of the most enigmatic leaders in recent American history. Before doing so, however, he’s set all objectivity and nuance to the side.Vice is a bio-pic that tells the story of former vice president Dick Cheney and his family through his adulthood, with a particular emphasis on his role in the Iraqi War. McKay paints Cheney and his gang of Merry Men as ruthless war-mongers, who would stop at nothing to obtain absolute power. The film aims to present Cheney’s vice-presidency as a historic and unprecedented power-grab that completely re-wrote the landscape of American politics. Unfortunately, McKay makes a series of questionable decisions that greatly disparage his ability to tell the audience an objective story.The film starts out with a self-deprecating preface that greatly handicaps the movie’s credibility. The opening title sequence has a message that says something to the effect of, “This is a true story, but Dick Cheney and his affairs are very private, so we did our fucking best.” The movie proceeds to present itself in a documentary-type format, complete with narration and news-footage splicing, after discrediting itself from the get go. The movie wears its bias as a forehead tattoo, depicting Dick Cheney as a Darth Vader-esque world-ender and by the end of the movie he has been blamed for seemingly everything wrong with the world today. This super-villain persona cast upon his shoulders is no doubt an intentional choice by McKay. His goal is to show Cheney as ruthlessness incarnate, but the effort comes off as cartoonish at times.Every scene then feels like an absurd dramatization, and as an audience, we are never sure what’s fact and what’s tabloid conjecture. Again, if you’re making an over-the-top dark comedy movie about Dick Cheney, this isn’t an issue, but Vice feels self-righteous in its education of the public, without providing solid ground to stand on. By the time the movie is over, the Cheney years are still foggy and the audience is left to grapple with what was real and what was an exaggeration….But let’s talk about Batman for a bit. Christian Bale turns in an all-timer, transforming into our 46th vice president. As a character actor, Bale may be unmatched. His performance, unlike the movie, is nuanced and layered. Spot-On. Bale’s commitment to his roles continues to be equal parts scary and enjoyable. At 44, I don’t know how much longer he can keep adding and dropping weight like this. As a fan of his work, I am a little concerned that someone’s going to offer him the role of Chris Farley and he’ll eat himself to death.As for the other performances, Bale’s cast-mates are solid but fall short of his bar. There are several portrayals of very recognizable, very real people. While Bale is going for (and nailing) an imitation of Cheney, other cast-mates choose to merely evoke their real-life counterparts, making for an odd pairing when on-screen with Bale. This is most obvious with Sam Rockwell‘s portrayal of George W. Bush. Rockwell, talented as he may be, likely made a conscience decision to play a caricature of Bush, rather than go for an imitation. This was clearly a play for comic relief, but it feels generic, like an SNL cold open. Amy Adams shines as Lynne Cheney and LisaGay Hamilton does a spot-on imitation of Condoleezza Rice.
Overall, McKay falls short of delivering a satisfying depiction of the man behind Cheney’s enigmatic exterior. The slant will be overwhelming, even for those who align with McKay’s obvious leanings. We’re here for one thing really. We’ve seen Christian Bale get Nicole Richie thin for The Machinist. We’ve seen him get WWE jacked for Batman. I don’t care if it’s Human Centipede 9, sign me up for fat fuck Christian Bale.