Truman Ruberti reviews Vice and its depiction of Dick Cheney, the largely unpopular 46th American Vice-President.
Expectations ran high after seeing Vice’s trailer and thinking that a biopic with Christian Bale as Dick Cheney – directed by Adam McKay who brought us The Big Short – sounded pretty cool, and I was eager to see it. It didn’t disappoint. I’m a big fan of films that have a fun, confident sense of style and a willingness to play with the medium. With Vice, McKay delivers just such a film, solidifying himself as a director who can make a film with a slick, self-aware presentation and an extremely brash tone.
Vice is informative and amusing as it delves into Cheney’s life in and out of office, and as such, it becomes easy to get sucked into the world of his gradual, decades-long assumption of power. The film scrutinises Cheney and his colleagues quite harshly over its runtime. It doesn’t like him, nor is it particularly kind to him, but it absolutely respects him. Cheney isn’t an easy man to side with, but despite that, Vice does its best to wade through the mystery and rhetoric to understand who he ultimately was: a human being.
The casting, make-up, and performances all combine to create the best part of the film: the characters. Any biopic lives and dies by its lead, and Bale, as ever, gets lost in the role. He nails the voice, mannerisms, and tics of Cheney, delivering that rare quality of performance (aided hugely by some stellar prosthetics) where an actor becomes the person they are portraying. Over the course of watching Vice, despite the fact that Bale is a massive star, despite the fact that he’s not American, I completely forgot what the real Dick Cheney looked like. The image of the politician melted away while Bale became, and now is, in my mind, Dick Cheney. And he’s not the only one – the rest of the cast are great too. Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, Steve Carell as Rumsfeld, Tyler Perry as Powell, and (particularly) Sam Rockwell as Bush really hit their marks, their acting and comedic talents lending themselves well to McKay’s darkly funny style. McKay doesn’t balk from exposing uncomfortable realities behind a lot of dark elements of American history, and sees no problem with directly linking Cheney’s policies to problems facing the world today. The gallows humour he employs implausibly finds the farcical side of how the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, ISIS, and the rise of American Populism all came to largely hinge on one man. Does the movie over-prescribe the extent of Cheney’s power? Sure. But it acknowledges these creative liberties with its opening epigraph, and if it leads to a film that is more entertaining and a protagonist that is more compelling, well, I’ll put up with a little embellishment.
Ultimately with Vice, what you see is what you get. If you watch the trailer and think it’s for you, it probably is: the performance and tone promised by the advertising are all delivered in spades. Vice isn’t for everyone – the sometimes snarky and always in-your-face presentation will be turnoffs for some, but for those tolerant of a more audacious stylisation, Vice is worth your time. Come Oscar season, while other categories will certainly be tight, if Vice doesn’t take it for at least Hair and Makeup, the Academy’s even worse at making choices than we thought.