‘Vice’ is satire of the highest order, and like any good satire is equal parts hilarious, disturbing, and ultimately, sobering. Buoyed by incredible performances, writer/director Adam McKay skewers a U.S. power structure defined by a GOP long con perpetrated on the American people, symbolized in the figure of one man, former Vice President and public enigma, Dick Cheney. Similarly to his previous film, 2015’s uniquely staged takedown of the subprime mortgage debacle of the 2000’s, ‘The Big Short,’ ‘Vice’ employs a novel structure and storytelling elements to keep the audience thoroughly entertained, while centering on a troubling subject.
The movie opens on the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, from Cheney’s perspective, before delving back in time for its first half in an attempt to suss out Dick Cheney’s motivations in life and politics. What’s interesting about these scenes, besides Christian Bale’s uncanny physical transformation into the man, is how ordinary Cheney’s beginnings were. He is presented as basically an aimless young man, prone to drinking and driving, yet buoyed by his Wyoming hometown sweetheart Lynn (a fully immersed Amy Adams in repressed firebrand mode, see also, ‘The Master’), who gives him an ultimatum to shape up or ship out. From here he becomes a burgeoning DC insider, inspired by a floundering yet fledgling Republican party in the Nixon era. This is when he fatefully meets initial mentor, subsequent ally, ultimate object of betrayal, Donald Rumsfeld (a cartoonishly boorish, immensely entertaining, un-PC Steve Carell), whose career is then on tied to his unassumingly sly protege. By the time Sam Rockwell’s incredibly clueless, yet strangely endearing version of George W. Bush shows up on screen, Bale’s embodiment of the slick manipulator has racked up quite the bench of despicable figures, all who contributed to today’s callous and self-serving political culture.
While the film goes through the standard chronological motions, McCay and his talent are thankfully not interested in presenting a traditional biopic. Instead, with the distinct aid of Oscar-nominated editor, Hank Corwin, they craft a pop-art version of one, marked by quick cuts and pointed flashes of news and nature footage. The movie is also blithely narrated by Jesse Plemons, whose connection to the subject is not readily apparent at first. There is a bedroom scene between the Cheneys where they converse only in Shakespearean iambic pentameter and a faux ending complete with credits. All of these choices, along with a pervasive comic tone, plant the film’s flag firmly in the camp of surreal yet sublime entertainment, not all that removed from McCay’s previous work. The biggest contrast when it comes to ‘Vice’ as opposed to the silliness of something like ‘Step Brothers’, is the sad reality that the public’s indifference and cynicism regarding leadership can result in a banal monster reaching the upper echelon of American power . . .
Written & Directed By: Adam McKay
Running Time: 132 min.
* * * 1/2 (out of four stars) -OR- A-