With his new film, writer/director Adam Mckay has carved out a distinct and enviable style, and solidified A-list status for himself. Although “Vice,” starring Christian Bale as Dick Cheney, Amy Adams as Lynn Cheney and Steve Carrel as Donald Rumsfeld, is by no means some typical Oscar bait film, it is very much poised for Oscar gold. He came close with his last critically acclaimed film, “The Big Short,” which was also excellent, but this should secure even more attention and more awards, including quite possibly, the most coveted. Also, like “The Big Short,” he’s tackling a topic that for some could have been daunting and heady, yet he makes it appealing and accessible. He takes the most mundane and dense subject matters and makes them relatable and enjoyable. On the surface, “Vice” is a character study movie, portraying the former vice president’s claim to fame, rise to power and insatiable appetite to control, but it is about so much more. What it may lack in delivering the most infamous VP’s humanity, it makes up for in style and substance in other forms. It successfully depicts one of the most volatile political times in recent history, casting a cinematic net over the post 911, George W. Bush era, and then some, including shedding light current politics in the wake of the Cheney era.
Although this a wide net, with much going on personally for Cheney and politically in general, and with what could have been an endless cast of characters, McKay manages to stay focused, with the point of view coming from a most unexpected narrator and point of view. He orchestrates it all masterfully, with perfect pitch and pacing. Also in true McKay form he educates as much as he entertains and he goes boldly where many dare not tread. Who would have ever thought a movie about the financial crash of 2008 could have been fun, but yet with The Big Short, he packed them in and we all came out with some clarification on the subject and laughing hysterically. Even more so with “Vice” – we learn about the man, the politics, the issues. Whether you love Cheney (is that possible?) or hate him (remember Darth Vadar comparisons?), there is an opportunity to learn and laugh. It’s not all shits and giggles though because there are scenes that can trigger collective negative memories and illicit rage while all under the umbrella of entertainment.
But enough about McKay and his seemingly endless reservoir of talent, let’s examine the other notable draw here: Casting and performances. Superb casting and transformative performances. Do not think Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump or Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. As good as they are, they are admittedly caricatures. In Vice, these are laudable portrayals, subtle and nuanced. Over the years much has been made of Bale’s ability to morph into a character, with notable sacrifices, such as reducing half his body weight for the 2004 film “The Machinist.” In “Vice,” he did the opposite, gaining a significant amount of weight to convincingly capture the physicality of Cheney. Beyond what he brought to the role, physically, he is at the top of his game in every other way. He’s believable as the young, down on his luck drunkard putting up lines for the electric company in Wyoming, as well as the starry eyed political intern hanging on Rumsfeld’s every word. As Cheney the character ages, growing in size and power, Bale shines. So too does his supporting cast, including Sam Rockwell as Bush W. Most might find that interesting or odd casting, but per usual, Rockwell gives a fantastic performance, deftly combining restraint, believability and whimsy. There are a few smaller roles, but equally impressive, such as Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, Allison Pill as Cheney’s daughter.
“Vice” is part character study, part political thriller, and all entertaining as well as undeniably intriguing and insightful. Whether you’re Republican or Democrat; conservative, liberal or politically indifferent, you’ll appreciate “Vice” … Okay, okay, everyone can appreciate and enjoy it, but the Cheney-hating liberals will probably have a little more fun.