Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Alison Pill, Eddie Marsan, Justin Kirk, LisaGay Hamilton, Jesse Plemons, Bill Camp, Don McManus, Lily Rabe, Shea Whigham, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Tyler Perry
R for language and some violent images
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
Political satires have been a mainstay of print and television for decades, but cinema has found the brief spurts of creativity separated by years of absence. Vice is the latest film by director Adam McKay to take on the subgenre, suggesting a modern rebirth is almost in full swing.
McKay seems to have found a cinematic niche that needed filling. With his follow up to The Big Short, McKay has proven adept at giving the world a fascinating, if somewhat bleak, look at the various issues that face modern American politics.
Taking the audience back to the 1960s when a young political operative by the name of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) was beginning his long political career with a stint as a congressional aide. From there through the 1980s, Cheney built a reputation as a strong conservative willing to do what needed to be done to protect his party. The former Vice President of the United States is presented as both a callous, heartless political operative and a caring, protective father.
Vice walks a delicate line between honest portrayal of an odious man and convincing biopic that attempts to partially humanize someone whose vileness has created a dangerous precedent. This warts-and-all biopic doesn’t soften Cheney’s odious stances, conveying him as a principled man, even if those principles are dangerous.
Bale does fine work as George W. Bush’s running mate and the stellar cast melds well into their historical roles. The performances are astute and compelling in ways that make them convincing. Few of the actors in the film are given much to do, with Amy Adams forcefully asserting Lynne’s prodding as a key reason why Cheney over-asserts his political willpower and Steve Carell as an equally opportunistic Donald Rumsfeld the only ones given much at all to do. This is clearly Bale’s show and he milks that opportunity for as long as he can.
McKay’s screenplay is filled with numerous line-drawing moments, few of which seem to fit the material well. These scenes create a haphazard narrative that bounces from idea to idea with minimal cohesiveness. The most fascinating satirical moment in the film is mid-way through when the audience is led to believe that a better ending to the film might have happened had Cheney’s career ended in the 1980s. The film’s title is more creative than the film itself, suggesting both Cheney’s highest office of Vice President as well as his succumbing to various sorts of vices throughout his life.
There’s an opportunity in cinema for political satires to flourish and succeed. While The Big Short and Vice aren’t the only games currently in town, they seem to be the only films that are earning any measurable attention. That said, if films like Vice can continue to expose the soul-sucking, life-altering malfeasance of current political operatives and their utter lack of concern for anything but staying in power, then we are in a period of great potential growth. A better writer, though, might give audiences more compelling opportunities for reflection and understanding.
April 11, 2019