Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Eddie Marsan, LisaGay Hamilton, Jesse Plemons
Written by: Adam McKay
Running Time: 132 mins
Release date: 25th January 2019
Who would have thought that Adam McKay, the writer and director of such throwaway Will Ferrell comedies such as Anchorman, The Other Guys and Step Brothers, should be producing films that cover serious subjects such as financial wheeler-dealings and political manipulators? With The Big Short and now Vice, McKay is becoming a filmmaker to take seriously, sending out satirical biting material that he’s becoming one of the most respected directors in Hollywood.
Dick Cheney is a secretive man who has managed to hold incredibly powerful positions in the American political system since Nixon was in charge. Yet it was his time as Vice President to George W. Bush that Cheney quietly moved from just being a figurehead to wielding such immense power to change the face of the world, even to this day.
Vice follows the life of a man so secretive, the film starts with an amusing card explaining that even though this is based on a true story, there have been some parts that needed to be made up. From this point on, McKay takes us on a journey from meeting him in the 1960s, a college drop-out who drinks too much and works as a labourer until he joins an internship in Washington, there meeting Donald Rumsfeld and starting Cheney’s political career.
The film, like The Big Short, plays with conventions of cinema. Characters break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience but in a way that seems a natural part of life (the narrator, Kurt, asks his wife to take his young child while he tries to explain something complicated to the viewers). It also bounces around in time, uses images to reinforce ideas and even, in the film’s most bizarre moment, has a credit sequence in the middle of the film, only to come to a grinding halt when you realise this is a fantasy sequence.
The film starts to become for focussed when Cheney is offered the Vice Presidency, a role that is looked upon as one without any power and a strange career move for a man who has already been Chief of Staff, Chair of the House and Secretary of Defense. As pointed out, this is Dick Cheney, a man who quietly listens and then uses his knowledge to inflict more power than Bush would ever have.
All of this is could have been played out in the darkest form. If Oliver Stone were in charge, this would probably be the road he would follow. The film does often resemble Stone’s Nixon, yet McKay manages to inject a sharp satirical edge that keeps the darkness at bay. The humour and there is a lot of laughter to have here, is very hit or miss. Most of the gags hit their target while others are far too complicated they leave you wondering what McKay was trying to say here.
Where the film really succeeds is the performances. Filling his film with top-notch acting talent, McKay cannot fail. Steve Carell (who seems to be in everything at the moment) give Donald Rumsfeld an air of Brick Tamland, the weatherman from Anchorman, while never heading into farce; Sam Rockwell is neatly cast as George W, and Amy Adams holds her own as Lynne Cheney, the wife of Dick and one with just as much power as her husband.
The film, however, is Christian Bale’s and he delivers the best performance of his career. Almost unrecognisable under tons of prosthetics, his Cheney is a quietly spoken, gruff bear of a man in size and status. He becomes the man in every way, and you forget that behind those metal-rimmed glasses is Bale. Already the winner of a Golden Globe, could this be the year Bale wins the Best Actor Oscar?
Vice is an exciting piece of cinema about a man people may know little about. It’s not as successful in its scattershot approach as The Big Short, but there is still plenty to enjoy, especially Bale’s Cheney. It will be interesting to see what target McKay has for us next.