Courtesy of Annapurna
“We did our F***king best” is the line thrown up on screen at the start of “Vice” - writer and director Adam McKay’s follow-up to his 2015 Oscar heavyweight “The Big Short” - and it immediately sets the tone for the forthcoming two hours. Chronicling the legacy of former Vice President Dick Cheney, “Vice” is the first motion picture attempting to narrate his story, which, if you follow Cheney in the news or online, his private life is one giant mystery. A mystery the filmmakers are attempting to divulge, and they don’t care if some misconceptions get thrown in the mix.
Long gone are the days of timid Will Ferrell comedies (with the exception of “Step Brothers” and “Anchorman” none of them were revolutionary) - because Adam McKay has proven himself a legitimate filmmaker. If “The Big Short” didn’t convince you, “Vice” will be the icing on the cake, and his name will get tossed in the Oscar mix for the second time in only three years. Matter of fact, they should start carving lead actor Christian Bale’s name on the gold statue now.
Regardless of your political medium, “Vice” is exceptional in that it doesn’t present itself as liberal or conservative propaganda, but in essences, a satirical dark comedy that highlights an interesting tycoon who managed to rewrite the duties and tasks of the Vice President. Often seen as a thankless job before Cheney stepped into the Oval Office, his tenure as one of the most unorthodox additions to George Bush’s regime (who is played by the reliable Sam Rockwell) is a study unto itself and the way McKay unspools his rise and fall is both shocking and hilarious.
Coaxing his usual batch of muses into the mix, McKay has tailored his ensemble from the same crop who made “The Big Short” a can’t-miss-event. Christian Bale disappears and is almost unrecognizable as former VP Cheney, and with Bale being the method actor he is, one can assume the lengths he traveled to get into his mindset. From the tone inflection and oversized dad bod on display, Bale creates one of the most authentic portrayals of his career (sorry Batman).
While “Vice” picks and chooses which aspects are worthy of exploration, including Cheney’s early days of drug and alcohol abuse at Colorado College, McKay makes sure to hit the bullet points on 9/11, Cheney’s constant meetings with his lawyer David Addington (Don McManus), and his avocation for cruel and unusual punishment (because legally they couldn’t say torture). “To hell with checks and balances - he just wanted power” - we’re told in a voiceover by the instantly recognizable Jesse Plemons - and power Cheney acquires.
Equal parts biopic and interpretation, McKay is almost in on the joke of how improbable some of Cheney’s accomplishments were (he managed to shoot someone and then the victim apologized to him) - including a sequence in the movie where McKay attempts to end the film because how else do you continue to tell a story that seems ridiculous?
No matter, after Cheney’s stints as a Chief of Staff under the Nixon administration, he steamrolled his way up the Washington ladder with presidential aspirations in check, but a poll with low numbers would quickly extinguish those hopes, thus leaving him out of the landscape until his eventual bid as the Vice President would come to fruition.
Fellow “Big Short” alums Steve Carell and Amy Adams turn in exceptional performances as former secretary of defense Donald “Rummy” Rumsfeld and second lady Lynne Cheney respectively - the evolution of those relationships is about as compelling in comparison to other aspects of McKay’s picture, and he gives both actors plenty to chew on. Adams, a likely best supporting actress nominee, goes to battle with Bale’s charamisa on a daily basis and succeeds at calling the shots at home.
Other aspects of Cheney’s life, including his daughters sexuality and his brush up with death on several occasions, get the big-screen treatment, and McKay is dutiful to handle them with respect and poise as seasoned filmmakers are prone to do. As a director, he teters on the edge of absurdity - McKay’s fatal flaw is mistakenly injecting humor into scenarios regardless of timing - but to the films credit, the gags work.
Despite select audiences inevitably trashing McKay for his take on Cheney's controversial past, “Vice” presents Dick at his most vulnerable and hammers home that if you have power, somebody will always try to take it.