Vice (2018) review: Edel-Vice, Edel-Vice, Be a Dick (Cheney) forever

‘I want you to be my VP,’ says George Bush (played by Sam Rockwell) to the former CEO, former Secretary of State and former White House Chief of Staff Dick Cheney (played by Christian Bale, wearing an impressive amount of prosthetics). Trying to sound casual in his response, he slowly but surely says ‘yes.’ He tries to butter up Bush with statements saying that he will do the hard and boring work, as the film cuts to shots of a man (presumably Cheney) fishing, demonstrating his tactics. Hook, line and sinker. A fitting theme for a film about a man who used loopholes, manipulation and bureaucracy to control the President and naive focus groups.

Vice is the latest biographical comedy-drama from Adam McKay, who you may know as the guy who gave us The Big Short, as well as various Will Ferrell films like Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers. It stars Christian Bale as the synonymous Vice President, Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney and Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. It shows Dick Cheney’s slow rise to power from an alcoholic university student to the power behind the throne of the White House.

Vice is OK. Not overwhelmingly good and not overwhelmingly bad. The thing that I found most disappointing about it was that it only felt like it explored one or two aspects in Cheney’s time as Vice President, which felt a little short in comparison to the rest of the film.

But Christian Bale is awesome as Dick Cheney. He conveys such a level of menace in his performance, whether it be subtle or not. We are shown that Cheney was not overwhelmingly charismatic in real life due to amount of ‘ums’ and pauses in Bale’s delivery. The film perfectly conveys why he never got his power by standing on his own (one scene shows him giving a terrible rally speech), but by being attached to the right people (his wife takes over one of his rallies and does a much better job than he could ever do). He is the kind of mastermind that you love to hate.

Adam McKay also does a good job at enhancing the comedy in many scenes. There were several segments that reminded me of scenes from The Big Short: one scene, for instance, sees Cheney wondering how to torture potential suspects and it cuts to him in a restaurant with several characters being served by Alfred Molina, describing the features of Guantanamo Bay in the form of a lunch menu. There were some aspects of the presentation that let it down though. The music was a bit boring and the cinematography looked a little flat.

As much as I praise Christian Bale for the material he is given and the performance he delivers, everyone just looks disappointingly pale by comparison. Sam Rockwell is fine, but the material that he is given to work with makes his portrayal look more like an above average SNL sketch. I can barely remember anything about Steve Carell’s performance; not his fault, but his character just felt like a slimier than normal Steve Carell. There was nothing about the set pieces that gives me any memorable impression of his character. And I was not a huge fan of Amy Adams’ performance; there were a lot of scenes where her line delivery came off as flat. These supporting players just felt like caricatures that were two-dimensional at best.

As for the two segment of him as VP, as I elaborated upon earlier, it only covered Cheney’s most impactful political actions: Guantanamo Bay and the Iraq War. For a character that had been built up as exceedingly menacing from the beginning I wanted to see him do more, especially since the dark comedy segments helped to elevate his scenes.

So, if Dick Cheney is the kind of real-life figure that you were interested in (or hated) then I think you should check this one out. Otherwise, you should probably skip it.

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Joshua Bell

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August 2021
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