Adam McKay (director of The Big Short) is no stranger to politics and difficult concepts. And in his latest, Dick Cheney is at the center point of his script. Vice is a satirical biopic of the former Vice President that recounts his years serving the US government from Richard Nixon’s administration through his influence in the White House under George W. Bush. And though it bites off more than it can actually chew, the film will leave an impression among movie goers, one way or another.
Fans of McKay’s directing and writing style will find no surprises when the script branches off into unusual segments. These moments include a waiter (Alfred Molina) serving the Bush administrators a menu of rationales for torture tactics or when Dick and Lynne branch off into Shakespearean monologues… But these are moments in which Vice shines and commands the audience’s attention. McKay somewhat recognizes that the content of his script may be difficult or too mundane for some to grasp, so he presents it in ways that feel educational yet entertaining.
But outside of these few moments, the film severely lacks in conveying its message, if it even has one. Sure, the film concentrates on Dick Cheney’s rise and, perhaps, abuse of power; but it’s nothing audiences won’t know without this movie. Additionally, the film comes off as a very rough first draft. For one, much of the film’s downfall comes in the first act, where it suffers from conspicuous pacing and editing issues. Unfortunately, Vice never overcomes them and instead seems like an ambitious project that never firmly plants its ideas reasonably.
The film’s saving grace is most certainly the ensemble. Led by Christian Bale, whose physical transformation to play Dick Cheney pays off and Amy Adams (Lynne Cheney), the two leads are absolutely phenomenal when portraying their characters. Together, they exude such tremendous on-screen presence and emotion when dealing with the politics, each other and national crises. Vice is loaded with excellent supporting cast members including Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Lily Rabe, Tyler Perry, and more. Audiences will agree that Vice‘s strength is in the acting.
The film’s protagonist, Dick Cheney, is presented as nothing short of despicable, and perhaps that is both the director’s intention and the feelings of some audience members. Even McKay’s incorporation of Cheney’s hallowed chest reveals his feelings on the corrupt. However, if these glaring messages weren’t obvious enough, the mid credit sequence reveals the dark humor with which McKay seeks to criticize both Conservatives and Liberals. It will generate some laughs among audiences – mostly because it’s a reality and perspective that modern-day politics has stimulated in us. However, its inclusion into the film mirrors the future of politics that McKay is perhaps telling us is inescapable.
Overall, Vice misses the mark in presenting a good Dick Cheney biopic. With its inconsistent tones and struggles to maintain a steady pace in its storytelling, less is revealed about his actual legacy (than audiences already knew) versus the filmmaker’s disdain for the protagonist. Still, there are moments in which the cast completely turns a less than enjoyable film into great entertainment, making Vice an unbalanced and oddly average feature that will garner just enough attention from movie-goers.