Dick Cheney is seen by many as the most controversial and powerful vice president in American history. With such a shocking legacy, it should come as no surprise that a mainstream Hollywood film depicting his political career doesn’t praise him or present him as an admirable man.
Director Adam McKay continues to swim away from goofy movies like “Anchorman” and focuses on creating substantial, serious films like “The Big Short” from 2015, in which he won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for telling the story of the 2008 stock market crash. Tackling heavier political topics, McKay examines the legacy of Dick Cheney, depicting his early political uprising that began during the Nixon administration to becoming the driving force of George W. Bush’s presidency.
Despite handling heavy, serious topics, McKay adds a style to “Vice” that’s somewhat similar to “The Big Short." He tries to lighten the mood by adding comedic relief and creative approaches that stylize and make his content less dry. Despite this ambition, McKay is all over the place as both a writer and director in this film. “Vice” has absolutely no idea what it wants to be or what it wants the audience to take away from this film.
McKay clearly despises Cheney and Bush, with righteous reasoning. Cheney was responsible for a lot of damage with his driving of the Iraq War and oil business operations, yet McKay doesn’t trust his audience enough to determine that for themselves or generate their own opinions. Instead, he makes “Vice” seem like a giant mockery of the vice president, yet also finds a way to humanize him. This sounds like it would add creativity and emotional appeal to such a polarizing figure and topic, yet it makes the film more unorganized, further emphasizing its identity crisis and not having any clear direction on what it wants its audience to truly take away other than Cheney was a bad dude and Bush was an idiot.
Christian Bale, however, does fantastic work as Dick Cheney in an unrecognizable role. Bale clearly researched this man and hits his performance in a nuanced, spot-on fashion. Amy Adams does great work as Lynne Cheney, the vice president’s wife, and Steve Carell also excels as Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense to Bush and longtime political operator involved in the Nixon administration. Sam Rockwell steals the show as George W. Bush, being naturally funny and not overdoing his role. Rockwell, who last year won best supporting actor for his career-defining role in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," should have been used more throughout the film instead of being just a small supporting character.
Despite the misguided direction and storytelling techniques, “Vice” is a wickedly entertaining film. Not one minute of the film is boring or uninteresting. Even though McKay misuses his blend of comedy and seriousness, he knows how to energize a film and get the audience interested. Christian Bale deserves thanks for this too, for it takes a truly talented actor to engage an audience from start to finish.
I doubt anyone will come out of “Vice” being persuaded in any way. Anyone who doesn’t have a negative attitude towards the Bush administration's foreign policy has probably been living under a rock for the last few decades. Adam McKay doesn’t present anything that new or shocking. He instead presents what is generally known and adds some minor details on Dick Cheney’s life and shows what could very likely have occurred behind closed doors during Dick Cheney’s political career.
If you want to be truly informed about Dick Cheney and understand the consequences behind his actions (good or bad), then a documentary is better suited for you. What “Vice” does is examine the political process in a highly energized, uncomfortably comedic fashion that makes for a genuinely entertaining film.