Film review: “Vice” (2018)

“Vice” (2018) 


Running Time: 130 minutes

Written and directed by: Adam McKay

Featuring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons and Justin Kirk 

Dick Cheney:I can feel your incriminations and your judgments, and I am fine with that. You want to be loved? Go be a movie star. The world is as you find it. You’ve gotta deal with that reality that there are monsters in this world. We saw 3,000 innocent people burned to death by those monsters, yet you object when I refuse to kiss those monsters on the cheek and say “pretty please.” You answer me this, what terrorist attack would you have let go forward so you wouldn’t seem like a mean and nasty fella? I will not apologize for keeping your family safe. And I will not apologize for doing what needed to be done so that your loved ones could sleep peacefully at night. It has been my honor to be your servant. You chose me. And I did what you asked.”

“Vice” (2018), somehow on the strength of its actors performances has managed to also ride the wave of “The Big Short” (2015) to become one of the most nominated films at this years Oscars with a stunning eight nods, which after actually watching the film left me scratching my head a little.

This is a film that is based around some parts of the life of Dick Cheney that paints him as some kind of failing upwards demigod that was after power his entire life and found it when he was asked to be Vice President under George W. Bush, then making many of the decisions that would come to define how the US operated both domestically and internationally in a post 9/11 world. This is a movie that has been carefully put together by Adam McKay who made such a splash after his first ‘serious’ movie “The Big Short” became a box office, as well as critical hit and an Oscar winner that covered the housing crisis that led to the collapse of major banks as well as the disappearance of trillions of dollars from the international economy. However the techniques that worked so well in that movie, as well as in McKay’s previous blockbuster comedies do not come close to working here, especially when dealing with such a serious subject as Cheney, 9/11 and a host of other subjects that still resonate so strongly today, which is a missed opportunity as it more or less makes light of a variety of subject that still resonate in todays political and social world. It is a difficult thing to look forward to a movie for so long and feel let down and disappointed by it.

After so many movies, documentaries as well as television shows about the George W. Bush White House especially in the light of the aftermath of 9/11 and how that transformed the world I had to wonder why make a movie that could glorify one the chief architects of that outcome as well as possibly one of the people that helped bring a person like Trump to power. Initially I understood why McKay and his cronies would want to make this movie, especially in light of the “The Big Short”, combining politics and his own somewhat unique narrative style, but after viewing it his take on Cheney is not very clear as well as a one sided affair. My own issues are that basically “Vice” skips over some major points of history instead opting for a broad overview that actually helps explain how we have ended up where we are, it is a cheap technique to pick and choose what is shown to a prospective audience. The other element is that this is a movie that requires the audience to do none of the heavy lifting in terms of understanding who Cheney was and is, to the extent that it draws some points that are difficult to substantiate, which in terms of an audience is negated by far too much humour. Another very weak part of the movie is the constant explaining by the narrator who is present for almost the running time of the film and for what real reason I am still not sure, If there is one movie that has been produced ever that shouldn’t require a narrator it is this, “Vice” covers so many important parts of the last forty years if you have to re-explain to an audience you are doing something seriously wrong as a director. In my mind we are seeing a director who has fallen in love with his own scattershot technique to offer what can only be described as a post modern biopic of the lowest standard as it is almost all surface with little depth and ultimately means little, it is also forgettable in terms of the point of it, the medium rally has become the message. Even the title “Vice” may seem like a clever pun, or play on words but thinking more deeply it is a little juvenile as well as simple to attempt to explain Cheney.

“Vice” is narrated by a character, Kurt, a fictitious veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars whose point for being becomes clear towards the conclusion of this film. The movie opens with Dick Cheney and other White House officials and staff responding to the September 11 attacks. The film then flashes back to Wyomingin 1963, where Cheney finds work as a lineman but struggles with alcohol that led him to drop out of Yale. After Cheney is stopped by a traffic cop for driving while intoxicated, his wife Lynne Cheney convinces her husband to clean up his life.

The reason to view some films can vary greatly, maybe it’s the story or the director or the actors, most times it is a combination of two more of these at a very basic level. However I can think of few films in recent memory that rely so heavily on the performance of the lead actor, in this case Christian Bale as Dick Cheney. It is Bales complete transformation into his role that makes “Vice” watchable at all, Bale really is Dick Cheney in almost every way which is as uncanny a performance as you will see this year. Bale has made a habit of physical transformations in many of his roles, in this he succeeds as much as he ever has, he has to be one of the frontrunners for Best Actor at this years Oscars, his only real threat is how people feel about the movie itself. Of course the rest of the cast are incredible as well with the three key supporting actors being the always great Amy Adams as Lyn Cheney, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld and Sam Rockwell George W. Bush who all play their parts with authenticity (mostly) and lend an air of power to aid Bales own performance which is a treat to see.

Now, I get that Adam McKay et al are all very smart liberal people who wanted to make a point about someone that has sown chaos throughout his career which is definitely highlighted in this movie which is a good thing to do especially when in this day and age we as a population are apt to forgive and forget particularly with the micro stories that take up our time on social media. I also recognise that McKay is not interested in telling a story that fits within a classical biopic as well as the Hollywood classic narrative which is to be applauded, the proof of his technique and its power as well as success can be easily recognised in “The Big Short” which remains a very powerful movie and a great piece of entertainment. There was nothing stopping McKay from retaining his flourishes but maybe they would have better utilised in a more though out manner, his fishing metaphor was good enough but overused far to much as was the narration which again was not needed and I wondered the point of the revel of the narrator, this felt like a movie that was found in the edit and it shows which is a real shame.

Regardless of the negatives of the movie it is still a good viewing experience and the performances along cover up many of the holes that exist, in fact I would even say is worth going to the movies to see it especially if you are interested in the period covered in US politics as well as the entire endeavour being a metaphor for the rise to power of Trump.

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