It’s a unique experience to watch a film that is equally as entertaining as it is infuriating. In 2015, The Big Short provided me with that experience; it was a movie that chronicled the 2008 housing crisis, but did it uniquely. The screenplay utilized some creative tricks to deliver the information from this incident in a way that felt fresh and engaging for the audience. Finding out that director Adam McKay was coming back to use that style again in another political film got me excited. This time around, he would be telling the story of former Vice President Dick Cheney. I don’t know much about him, so this was definitely going to be an educational experience for me. Vice chronicles Dick Cheney’s rise within the political sphere. The movie jumps between different times in his life to show everything from his humble beginnings to his career in politics. They also attempt to pull the curtain back on his personal life and explore his relationship his with his family.
It turns out that Dick Cheney is an interesting individual. Vice does an excellent job of establishing him as a man with good intentions early on in his life. We see it time and time again, with his genuine excitement for his moderate successes and the way he interacts with his family. As the movie progresses, however, the audience sees how his attitude slowly changes as he gets deeper into the web of politics. He loses most of his human qualities by the time he becomes Vice President. He becomes this genuinely evil individual that will throw all morals out the window to attain power. Some of the things he does are absolutely horrific and infuriating to watch. Adam McKay finds a way to make these actions a bit more digestible by presenting them through a satirical lens. Like The Big Short, Vice is able to spin the dark content of its story in a way that makes you laugh. At one point, the film breaks into Shakespearean dialogue to assume what a specific conversation might have sounded like. The casting choices of Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell as Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush also go a long way toward adding levity to the situations depicted in the movie.
The only problem I have with the screenplay is the pacing. The first act of Vice flies through the early parts of Cheney’s life and leaves certain situations without conclusions. There are also the early parts of his relationship with his future wife Lynne that don’t get nearly enough attention. The lack of information about Cheney in his early years makes the first act feel like a montage, but the real draw to Vice is the actors. Christian Bale gives one of the year’s best performances as Dick Cheney. The makeup team did a fantastic job in helping him transform into Cheney, and Bale does the rest. He clearly lost himself in this role, and at times during the film, I forgot I was looking at Christian Bale. It’s scary how he can imitate Cheney’s mannerisms as effortlessly as he does. Amy Adams gives the other powerhouse performance as Lynne Cheney. I loved the way Adams is able to show how uptight Lynne can be. She has this extremely dry delivery that makes her come off as bland, but she puts on a perfect accent. Her facial expressions do a lot in crucial moments to help define Lynne as a person. There’s a specific scene involving her youngest daughter in a hospital that told me everything I needed to know about what Lynne was thinking at that moment. She’s stern, selfish, and makes it clear that Dick is the more understanding person at that moment.
The supporting cast of Vice is also great. Sam Rockwell is absolutely hilarious as President George W. Bush. If he were portraying anyone else, I would assume he was playing a caricature rather than an actual person. The way he makes Bush come off as this honest yet naïve man really works well for the movie. His mannerisms make him come off funnier than he intends to be. Steve Carell supplies his typical style of humor as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He has an aggressive attitude and often says things that are inappropriate.
Vice incorporates music to play up the satirical humor of its script. Composer Nicholas Britell sets heartwarming tracks to play in the background of scenes that only Cheney would think is appropriate. This completely threw off the audience with which I saw the movie. There’s even a scene where Cheney is walking down a hallway and music that sounds similar to Godzilla’s theme starts to play. It’s one of the funniest moments in the entire film, and it had me laughing out loud.
Vice is a very entertaining film. The satire works well in delivering the message that Vice President Dick Cheney and the Bush administration did a lot of sketchy things during their tenure in the executive branch. It’s an infuriating experience to sit in a movie theater and be reminded that all of this actually happened. There are plenty of actual events depicted in the film, and Dick Cheney played a huge roll in all of them. The only thing I question is where the facts stop and the assumptions begin. I know that the big moments in the film are factual events in American history, but the time between those moments could have been completely fabricated. There’s a mid-credits scene that lets the audience know that the filmmakers already saw these questions coming. It’s a quick scene meant to assume the reactions of both liberals and conservatives. There is a message being pushed, but it’s that Adam McKay appears to have a legitimate hatred of politics in general. His cynical outlook on the political landscape doesn’t disqualify the material, though. Vice is a compelling bit of political satire that I think is well worth checking out.