There are few things that can ruin an artist quite like ego. After any success, it’s logical to be excited about your abilities getting validated and moving onto the next best thing. Ego is like a poisonous well, though. Every time an artist goes back to drink from it, it poisons their mind more and more. Some are smart about it, taking only tiny sips and building up an immunity. That’s rarely the case, however. Most of the time, their ego takes over and unfortunately gets the best of them. 

Based off the real-life career and exploits of former US Vice President Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), Vice explores his days from working as a power lineman, all the way through his term as Vice President. As we experience his life story, we learn more about the man who would go on to the shape the course of our history for who knows how long to come. 

With The Big Short (which I enjoyed, but didn’t love) gaining a whole host of accolades, such as an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, Adam McKay clearly thought he was on the top of the world. With his previous film tackling the 2008 financial crisis, the next step up was to obviously look into the political landscape of the time. What better subject than Dick Cheney? He’s no doubt had a large effect on our country and the world, and as a secretive and quiet man, he is ripe for exploration. I grew up during the Bush administration, so to put it lightly, I’m not a fan of the Cheney, nor anybody he was closely involved with. You won’t find me saying anything positive about him. 

But did you know that Dick Cheney is responsible for literally every terrible thing that’s happening in the world? The recent California wildfires, the ongoing opioid crisis, and more. Yep, it was all Dick Cheney, or at least that’s what Adam McKay wants you to believe. Because he’s unable to convey it in any other way, we’re just treated to real life photos of this issues on screen. It’s all horrifying, yes, but what are you trying to say? That our country has a lot to fix? I agree, but I don’t see you offering any sort of alternative. The use of stock footage seems to be an irritating trend lately, with BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk using similar narrative techniques by integrating them into traditional narratives. To me, it displays a filmmaker not being able to fully convey their ideas. That was just one of this film’s many failures. 

The most insulting the thing of all, and what made me legitimately hate this film and everything about McKay’s intent, was how condescending it all felt. Seriously, I could feel McKay’s contempt for the audience and American public radiating from the screen so much, it probably gave me cancer. Many times throughout the film, he makes criticisms about consumerist American culture, showing people partying, going to concerts, or entertaining themselves in various ways as the world crumbles around them. Aren’t they just so ignorant? How dare they entertain themselves! Ahem… actually, excuse me, Mr. McKay, but what exactly were you doing during the Bush administration? Oh yeah, making movies like Anchorman and Talladega Nights. Those are excellent comedy films, but he wasn’t exactly fixing the problem he’s talking about here. There’s a mid-credit stinger that’s supposed to represent our current climate, featuring a group of people on opposite ends of the political spectrum getting into a phsyical altercation. During this, two vapid women talk about being excited for the new Fast and the Furious film. Aren’t they just so ignorant for liking simple entertainment while people in power are pitting us against each other? Again, rich coming from the director of fucking Step Brothers. At least the Fast and the Furious films know what they want to be and do it well.

Like The Big Short, McKay once again employs a pseudo-documentary style and it’s curious why he just didn’t make a full on documentary here. Oh yeah, because people want to be informed by a documentary and not be treated like idiots. It’s more fun to play dress up with actors and dramatize everything, making everybody out to be mustache twirling villains. You can also have a completely pointless scene of characters reciting Shakespearean dialogue, which adds nothing, other than McKay wanting us to experience him figuratively jerking himself off. It again shows McKay’s hypocrisy, by criticizing us for being entertained, yet making entertainment. If you’re going to lambaste us for this so much, then why not attempt to fix the problem and make a documentary? Gotta feed that ego, I guess. 

Even without the condescending attitude, Vice would still be a total slog. It’s poorly structured and edited, jumping around many different time periods in Cheney’s career. This also adds to the tone issues, where it often shifts from dark comedy, then to drama. Composer Nicholas Brittell’s score at least compliments the tones well enough, with some truly haunting and chill inducing compositions. Aside from how he acts in the political sphere, we never really get a good idea of who Cheney is, or what story McKay is trying to tell. He tries to tie together with occasional shots of Cheney fishing (I guess that’s what he really wants, or something?) and scenes of him and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) dealing with their daughter’s homosexuality. Aside from that, all we really know about the Cheney couple is that they’re power hungry and will exploit anybody they can to get it. 

The performances are all at least outstanding, though. Literally standing out in this contemptuous exercise in tedium. With the help of an excellent makeup and hairstyling department, Bale totally becomes Cheney, down to his look, body language, and mannerisms. He probably ate double cheeseburgers every day for a month to give himself a heart problem too. Amy Adams is also fantastic, spending a lot of screentime with Bale, even outacting him in some scenes. She commands scenes just like he does. Props to the makeup department for achieving the impossible and making her ugly. I couldn’t help but be distracted by Steve Carrell, though. He’s been making great strides as a dramatic actor, but when he’s portraying a real life public figure, his voice is just too distinct for me to be immersed. He plays Rumsfeld as a brash jerk, and I honestly found myself laughing quite a bit because he was reminding me of Michael Scott from The Office. Sam Rockwell is also the best George W. Bush impersonator I’ve ever seen, but that’s all he ever felt like here, because Bush plays a very minute role in the overall story. 

Vice is a testament to how much the right actors can elevate a project, because if it weren’t for the incredible performances, this would be one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Look, I hate Dick Cheney and think he’s part of one of the worst presidential administrations in our country’s history, but I hate being talked down to even more. Adam McKay clearly got full himself, and I mean that almost literally, with his so far up his own ass where he probably took a tour of his entire intestinal tract. Other than absolutely insulting your audience, I’m not sure what his goal was here. It’s not informative, nor entertaining, nor stylish. It’s a film that’s the equivalent of a politician: doing a whole lot of talking, but not really saying anything at all. 


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