While the media works itself into a frenzy about a rogue American president, sometimes it’s good to take a step back and look at the truly shocking things that have happened in the recent past that are already being forgotten. Vice is Adam McKay‘s cheerfully scabrous take on the second Bush presidency or, as he’d like you to realise, the Cheney crypto-presidency.
If you liked The Big Short – and you should – then you’re prepared for the irreverent tone this film takes. Starting with footage of the September 11 attacks, and Cheney’s immediate, decisive reaction to it, it sets up his life story, starting with his hard-drinking youth and purposeful reform that landed him working as an intern with the Nixon administration under Donald Rumsfeld. It follows his political careerism and examines his philosophy of power. Viewing the presidency as inconveniently restrained, he seizes the opportunity to be the vice president to the idiotic son of Bush, where he’s able to bully and throw his weight around with almost no scrutiny.
The key to this film’s success is the portrayal of Dick Cheney by a horrifyingly transformed Christian Bale, who growls out his lines in an impersonation that’s utterly uncanny. Bale deserves every award he gets for this, which should be all of them. It’s beyond a stunt performance, and he adds so much dead-eyed, impenetrable menace to the role that it’s worth the price of admission just to see it. The running joke of his heart trouble is done especially well. Amy Adams is impressively forceful as his no-nonsense wife Lynn Cheney, and Sam Rockwell‘s Bush and Steve Carrell‘s Rumsfeld are very entertaining.
Vice is not a subtle film. It adds some depth to Cheney by examining his conflicted relationship with an exploitable conservatism that threatens to marginalise his lesbian daughter but otherwise you’re getting hammered with Cheney’s evil in nearly every frame. There are plenty of breaks in the fourth wall as characters address the camera, and McKay adds some rug-pulls and juxtapositional edits that drew gasps from the audience. It’s amusing, but it lacks the human connections that made The Big Short such a compelling experience. It swings at Cheney with every ounce of force it can muster, and while it’s fair to say he deserves it, the polemical nature of the film makes it less involving than it is funny.
Should you see it? Absolutely. This is a solid piece of political shock-therapy. It’s a little simplistic in its takes, but it gets the thrust of Cheney’s odiousness right and has a performance by Bale that will drop your jaw.