Star Rating: 2/4
If you do see Vice, what do you expect from it? Do you expect it to be a political satire in the midst of all the tension you hear about every day on the news? If so, you'll find some fascinating insights but might not enjoy it with a whole heart. Vice offers an interesting look at America's history as well as the effects of Dick Cheney's legacy but as a film, it ends up being insufficient as a scathing look at politics while also being too experimental to be liked.
One highlight of the film is how menacing Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) is as Vice President. Through montages using real-life footage throughout the feature, especially in the beginning, people are tortured in the midst of carnage throughout the Middle East. Cheney authorized it all. People within Generation Z may not be too familiar with events regarding the presidency of George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) but the main idea is clear: everyone was running Bush's country but Bush. Anyone who watched an advertisement for Vice could relate it to how the Vice President could be doing more than the actual President in current politics. However, the movie tries to be a character study more than using the structure of a character study to point out flaws in current events. If they did the latter, it would be more resonating.
The character to study is one who goes from being a drunk bum to acquiring all sorts of power a Vice President typically wouldn't have. Everyone had to report to him before Bush. It makes sense to say that Bush was Cheney's puppet and Christian Bale's performance is so seamless and casual as the power-hungry individual. His sly and raspy voice makes him so villainous and the fact that he put on 40 pounds is unbelievable. He does become Cheney but there's one mark he doesn't hit: why does he want power so badly? Bale is worth watching as he grows more ruthless but revealing his motivations would make his study more interesting.
Another interesting quality is how Bush was Cheney's puppet but Cheney might have been one to his wife, Lynne (Amy Adams). Her first scene is brilliantly constructed as she talks him down for his brash behavior as young adults in a manner reminiscent of an evil minion reporting to the master from a Saturday morning superhero kids show. She says she needs him to get what she wants: opportunity. Women did not have as many in the mid-20th century, unfortunately, yet it's fascinating to see how Lynne might have used her husband as a way to leaving her legacy on the world. Adams is so cunningly slick in the role that it makes you wonder if she might be more dangerous than her spouse. Could she be considered the real villain?
Even though Lynne adds to the character progression of Dick Cheney as a possible central driving force for his career, there's a respectable quality to him that many may not credit him with: he's a decent family man. You'll see him as a loving husband and a supportive father. His relationship with his wife is questionable as you might wonder if she really loves him but he definitely loves her. Without her, he'd be nothing, so he owes her much. The poke at feminism from the perspective of a progressive artist is present but that's not the goal. It's all about Cheney's career.
His career was always like a game of bowling; he just need the pins and one to get him rolling. Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) got him rolling and George W. Bush ends up being the set of pins. With his objectives, Rumsfeld turns him into the beast, metaphorically speaking, whose only intention is to serve his party, much like himself. The more experience he gets, the easier it is to manipulate someone like the former cocaine-addict Bush. Rockwell could be considered a reason why Vice is sometimes funny to witness as he makes him somewhat cartoonish, especially as he looks like a bobblehead that came to life. His vocal impression of him will have you laugh a little harder at him too.
Vice makes you feel like you are watching history and the makeup art is incredible. On the contrary, it feels too much like a lecture as it tells you what happens rather than showing the present day impact you might be oblivious to. The politicians depicted come from the Nixon era which shaped their conservative ideologies and it comes as a shock to show that we haven't come that far from the period in time. Is that the point though? You might not know.
There's also the experimental quality that makes it seem too unconventional for everyone. where scenes juxtapose images of fishing. Parts showing Cheney's ambition are mirrored through the juxtaposition of people fishing. Those work but some are off-putting such as the Shakespeare scene. The Cheneys are about to go to sleep while discussing a possible running mate position with Bush. It cuts to black and cuts to them reciting a dialogue from Richard III. The scene is intended for laugh but in a weird way. It's definitely not for honesty. Vice is labeled a comedy, yes, but the way it conveys it is not for the faint of heart.
Much is covered in the film that you might not make too much sense of it. You might have been excited to see it if you enjoyed the director's previous work, The Big Short (2015). His last film is superior as it had more of a message covering the 2008 economic crisis: America needs a new economic system. McKay blends popular culture references with serious documentation but his goal is unclear. It feels like Cheney lacks a reason to pursue titles of power as a character to critique our current president so you might be a sensing a let-down with Vice.
Cheney will always be known as a ruthless Vice President who did only what he thought was best. Some can argue that he was well-intentioned in times of terror but the horror upon realization of his capabilities should be agreed on both sides. Power can lead to corruption on one's soul and that is what happened to him. Actors like Bale give Vice entertainment value and can raise discussion on who the people are but the discussion is for the people, not the film.