If you’re right leaning and hellbent on seeing the glorification of conservative ideologies on screen, you’re definitely not going to accept Vice.
If you’re left leaning and wish to see a monstrous one-note portrayal of former Vice President Dick Cheney, you’re probably not going to agree with Vice.
If you appreciate clean, linear storytelling and prefer your biopic’s bland and formulaic, you’re certainly not going to appreciate Vice.
If you hate the random inclusion of Shakespearean soliloquies, you’re really not going to like at least one scene in Vice.
If you found The Big Short’s comedy and presentation of facts condescending and/or arrogant, you’re absolutely not going to tolerate Vice.
If however, you don’t concur with the above sentiments and you wish to see a consistently engaging, entertaining and funny film that attempts to both humanise and demonise former Vice President, Dick Cheney then Vice could be worth your money. Or maybe you just wish to see fat Christian Bale. More on that later…
Adam McKay’s follow up to 2015’s The Big Short continues to experiment with his unique brand of angry, comedic, fourth-wall breaking docudrama filmmaking, and it’s every bit as angry, liberally-motivated, opinionated and audacious as his previous effort.
If you walk into the theatre holding your deeply entrenched political agenda and ideologies close to your heart, the film won’t convert or convince you to cross the aisle or embrace bipartisanship. It’s a darkly comedic exploration of a Republican who was widely known for his secrecy. The opening title card sets the tone instantly:
This film is “a true story, or as true as it can be. We did our [beeping] best.”
From here, the scattershot narrative skips and jumps through Cheney’s silent yet world-altering ascension into power and the White House. The film focuses largely on Cheney’s wiggling to obtain executive power and his immediate (and depending on your viewpoint – controversial) actions that followed after the first plane hit the World Trade Centre on September 11 2001. We detour around his days as a drunken layabout and there’s numerous not-so-subtle allegorical shots of him baiting and fishing in streams of water. For the most part however, the film wants us to understand the Cheney largely responsible for the post-911 world we are now forced to navigate.
Much like his previous entry, McKay inserts random jokes, gags, historical footage, text, monologues, images and cameos to emphasise a point or poke fun. But the hit-rate is not as consistently strong or provocative this time around, and the effects can be jarring and further enhance the disconnectedness of the storytelling.
What does work is a larger-than-usual Christian Bale and his radical transformation from Batman to Fatman (it’s the reverse Kevin Smith 2018 edition). While it’s morally tricky to advocate for such extreme weight gain and loss, Bale’s commitment and quiet fury is mesmerising. He grumbles and stares his way through his dialogue and co-stars. Through passive-aggressive body language and perfectly measured corporate tones, Bale nails Cheney and comes exceedingly close to convincing audiences, even for just a brief moment, that tax breaks for the super rich, increased surveillance and unethical torture methods might actually be in the public’s best interests. Such is the power of Bale’s oddly alluring command of the character and the screen.
And for the record, Steve Carell, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell are all as stellar as can be expected.
Vice is knowingly divisive and smuggly proud of itself. If you consider yourself politically savvy and scholarly, you won’t appreciate the broad stroke explanations on offer here. If you’re keen to see a fun video essay on political corruption, you can either watch it and have a laugh, or take to your internet comment sections in all caps.