Covering politics in cinema is an incredibly difficult effort. Often dealing with heated topics, a movie based on a person of power is almost always skewed from a certain viewpoint, no matter how objective the filmmakers attempt to be. Written and directed by Adam McKay, Vice is a film that unapologetically leans a certain way, delivering a cluster of mixed quality.
Presenting a large portion of his life, Vice tells the tale of Dick Cheney’s rise from a directionless young man towards his eventual seating as the Vice President of the United States. The film is led by Christian Bale as Dick, alongside Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld with Sam Rockwell rounding out the main cast as George W. Bush.
Told in a pseudo-documentary style, the film is presented with a constant voice-over as we are taken through the actions that led Dick Cheney to become the right-hand man for the leader of the free world. In this regard, the movie is never boring. While Adam McKay is clearly positioned on one end of the political spectrum and much of Cheney’s biography is presumed (because of his very secretive lifestyle), many viewers will still be amused by this frenetic telling of the man’s life. The performances are superb and the actors are able to convey some powerful scenes. However, it is the architecture of the movie that lets it down greatly.
Building on the narrative style of The Big Short, this film displays the events of Cheney’s life in a unique way. While The Big Short was able to do this successfully, Vice goes a few steps too far. Its haphazard editing and fourth wall breaks occur far too often and are not consistent when they do. There are some fantastic sequences brought to a grinding halt because of this, leaving you wishing that McKay had continued the simpler approach from his previous film.
It is clear that McKay wanted to add an element of comedy to the drama of the topic, but the method they used to gel the genres only does damage to the overall tone of the picture. It almost feels as though the director could not help himself, injecting far too much of his quirky style. These tonal issues are compounded by the pacing problems that the movie has. It tries to cover too much and skims over some vital parts of Cheney’s run as Vice President. There is a feeling that focusing the majority of the story on this time of his life would have been beneficial. At the end of the day, it is this period that most of us wanted the attention to be on.
With regards to the more technical aspects, the cinematography is serviceable, as is the music. The issues with direction and editing have been mentioned above but an area where the film really shines is the makeup and hairstyling. Christian Bale and Sam Rockwell are the spitting images of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. While their tremendous performances could have still been believable, the makeup and hairstyling allow the footage to seem entirely real at times.
Despite being filled with wonderful performances and an incredibly interesting story to tell, Vice is a movie handicapped by its style. A style that worked very well in The Big Short yet fails in many regards here. Even so, the film is still an engaging watch that will keep many interested throughout.