- Review by Robyn Kilroy
Vice, Adam McKay’s new political drama/satire explores the life and career of one of Washington’s most problematic players, Dick Cheney. Cheney (played by Christian Bale), had a long and successful career in American politics, with positions as White House Chief of Staff under President Ford, representative for Wyoming in 1978 and eventually Vice President to George W. Bush. Vice tackles this lengthy political career, depicting the corruption and bureaucracy of Washington DC and the strides Cheney made in order to obtain more power. Each moment of corruption and scandal leads on to the next, leaving audiences both enthralled and disgusted by what they’re witnessing.
Cheney is notoriously a secretive and enigmatic figure, one that kept his dishonest plans away from the eyes of the American public (and from many in the administrations he worked in). For this reason, I was curious to see how McKay would portray Cheney and the events surrounding his career in politics when so little is known about what actually happened. However, McKay covers himself and the film in this instance by stating at the beginning of the film that they tried their best with the limited information they had. The rest of the film plays on this notion of uncertainty surrounding Cheney. McKay adopts a surreal approach in order to respond to the uncertainty, such as when Cheney and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) break into Shakespearean-like dialogue. He also uses clever visual effects, like blurring out certain lobbyists who worked with Cheney in order to punctuate the secrecy surrounding Cheney’s dealings. These moments are used well for the most part and add to the surrealism of Cheney’s career. The fact that he and his goons could get away with so much is itself surreal.
Along with the clever use of surreal moments, another strength of this film comes from its characters. Christian Bale not only went under a remarkable transformation to look like Cheney, but he also perfected his mannerisms, like his crooked mouth and his exasperated tone of voice. Bale also perfects Cheney’s rise to power, depicting him as an unmotivated drunk in his youth, then showing the process as he rises through the ranks of Washington. Bale plays Cheney with the correct amount of ruthlessness, but doesn’t fail to show a softer side, such as the way he reacts to his daughter coming out as gay. Bale’s Cheney is matched by Adam’s Lynne Cheney, a strong woman who motivated her husband to succeed and gain more power. The two work off each other well, forming a kind of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth relationship. Another performance worth noting is Steve Carell’s Donald Rumsfeld, who almost matches Cheney in ruthlessness and corruption.
This film will undoubtedly do well during award season, and judging by the time of year it’s being released, there’s no doubt that McKay thinks the same. Overall I enjoyed this film, but there were definitely some faults. The films duration was too long and although I was certainly engaged the whole time, things started to feel repetitive. Also, I did feel that some of the clever visual devices in McKay’s storytelling were a little bland and overused throughout the plot, such as the metaphor of fly fishing to represent Cheney’s hooking of power. However, the good outweighs the bad in this case, and ultimately what the film shows resonates strongly with today’s American political climate of corruption and collusion. After all, Cheney’s actions have shaped the face of American politics (for the worse), and that’s why making a film like this and other films like BlacKkKlansman in 2018 is important.