ANNAPURNA PICTURES (2019)
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons
Vice is a cool word isn’t it?
Dick Cheney, one of the most secretive, private men to hold any power in history, is the subject of Adam McKay’s Vice. The man who forged a hugely successful political career, holding some of the highest positions in government (including Dubya’s Vice-President), who began life as a heavy-drinking ne’er do well has now been elevated to Hollywood biopic status. It’s absolutely not a stretch to say that your enjoyment of this movie will entirely depend on your political leanings.
Vice opens by telling us that little is known about Cheney, but that the filmmakers did their "fucking best”. What is known about Cheney isn’t flattering or worthy of praise. He was ruthless, a growler, a methodical man always looking his next step on the ladder, whatever the cost. The man who licked his lips at the prospect of power whilst thousands of Cambodians were incinerated, the highly suspicious oil deals that coincided with the profitable ‘war’ with Iraq, and pretty much took control during 9/11 to ensure the tide swung in his favour in the face of US safety (to name a few) isn’t painted in any flattering light here. It’s very much a demonization and focuses fully on his most infamous moments – I suppose that’s more interesting than meetings and family time.
I can hear the cries of the anti-Liberal brigade denouncing the movie already for painting Cheney as the devil - though he did do a pretty good job of that himself - and McKay doesn’t do a great job of hiding his personal thoughts. Christian Bale, bulked up and bald for the role, is what makes Cheney watchable and tolerable. It’s another excellent performance from Batman, though I felt he didn’t quite lose himself in the role as much as Gary Oldman did as Winston Churchill. Still, it was a fabulous portrayal. The supporting cast, too, are super across the board – from Amy Adams stoic Lynne Cheney (looking remarkably like Nicola Sturgeon), Steve Carell’s boisterously snide Donald Rumsfeld and Sam Rockwell’s marvellous turn as George W. Bush – there is simply nothing wrong with the performances in Vice. Jesse Plemon’s entertaining narration is a welcome device too, one that pays off viciously. The one moment of goodwill from Cheney is later eradicated brutally, so there isn’t an awful lot left to cling to in terms of supporting the focal point of Vice.
The key issue is what exactly McKay was aiming for? Was this intended as a comedy? Satire? Spoof? The movie shifts tones and attitudes more than a politician and The Big Short-lite feel to everything isn’t always successful. However, for a biopic on someone as uncharismatic as Dick Cheney, it was the right approach to take to avoid it all becoming a bit staid and stiff. The avalanche of metaphors littered throughout are only part-successful (fly-fishing is highly important for some reason, but the ‘heart’ metaphor was strong) but overall, the writing is decent (except one odd Shakespearian recital). It all hits hard though as, despite eighteen years passing, 9/11 still looms large and the actions of the men in power were (of course, if true) frankly disgusting, though as Cheney himself says to the audience – it’s America’s fault, they voted him in. A politician to the end.
Vice isn’t a perfect movie. It’s a messy, lopsided, and, at times, an ill-advised biopic of a man who could be similarly described. Christian Bale himself described Dick Cheney as Satan essentially and McKay’s movie does all it can to back this up. Whatever your leanings or thoughts on Cheney, as a movie Vice is entertaining and solid enough despite its fair share of flaws.
January 7th 2019