Happy 2019! I'm back with my first review of the new year. I debated writing this one because I'm so late to the game seeing it, but I have a lot of thoughts about this movie... It's a little complicated, but let's dive right in.
If you haven't heard of Vice, this is Adam McKay's follow up to The Big Short following Vice President Dick Cheney up to and through President George W. Bush's administration. This isn't exactly a biopic, but this movie doesn't claim to be. I think most people understand McKay's take on things is going to follow loosely on fact and attempt to tell a story in an entertaining way. But did he accomplish that? It's up for debate.
Since this came out three weeks ago, I've seen reviews all over the map about this film. Honestly, some were so outraged that I put off seeing this until after the Golden Globes. Political drama and satires are right up my alley, so I knew I had to see this for myself. Plus, Christian Bale's transformation was one I needed to see since he'll decidedly be the front runner heading into the Academy Awards and has already taken home the Golden Globe. Other members of the cast are being recognized for their performances, as well, including Sam Rockwell and Amy Adams.
Let's begin with what I did like about the film. Christian Bale does embody Dick Cheney down to the grumble and grimace. He transforms across several decades and chapters of Cheney's life disappearing into some incredible hair and makeup. My highest regards to this team as they realistically age not only Bale but every other character as well. Amy Adams disappears into her role of Lynne Cheney. She's always been a tremendous actress, so I'm not surprised in the slightest. I also thought Sam Rockwell as President Bush was fine. I'm not sure it's Best Supporting Actor nomination worthy as we've seen so far this awards season, but it worked. There's an unusual casting of Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld which I tried my hardest to not let distract me, but I didn't love this for him. He did his best with some of Rummy's facial mannerisms, but he's Steve Carell and it's hard to not notice that. Tyler Perry as Colin Powell had a similar feeling for me. It's hard not to be distracted by that, but he did a commendable job. I appreciated the spot-on casting of the peripheral roles of Condoleezza Rice, Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and Karen Hughes. They balanced out some of the more distracting castings. Also, special shoutout to our narrator, Jesse Plemons, who I thought was one of the smarter choices in the structure of this film.
I also appreciate McKay taking direct aim at such a vile human. He pulls no punches about his point of view on Cheney, but may not go far enough. I was no doubt outraged while and after watching. I think it told a fairly linear story and explained how much chess Cheney played from his early days as a staffer for Donald Rumsfeld in the Nixon/Ford era all the way to the war in Iraq. Everything from his DUIs in Wyoming to meeting Rumsfeld, to his first learnings of the Unitary Executive Theory from Scalia, to the rise of Fox News, to his several heart attacks (which become somewhat of a comedic relief throughout) to the way he places his friends in almost every position of power during the 2000 presidential transition was covered. And, most importantly, Cheney's role in the "war on terror" was maximized to its fullest extent to really drive home the war criminal moniker he's earned since.
Sure, there are several problems with this movie. One key issue I had is that it essentially absolves George Bush of all responsibility of the atrocities committed during his administration. They depict him as a bumbling idiot with no opinion on anything (which I'm not saying he's not a bumbling idiot), but to suggest he had no idea what impact Cheney's decisions had on the world bothered me. I don't know if this was intentional, but it's what I walked away feeling the most annoyed about after everything. There's little doubt Cheney was the most powerful VP to ever hold the office and that was possible because Bush allowed it, but to suggest Bush was a mindless puppet is insulting.
The editing is messy at best. The tone was a bit all over the place. We had comedy one moment complete with a fake credits scene depicting what could have been had Dubya never called, and then outrageous moments where I audibly scoffed at how awful Cheney was the next. I'm sure that was intentional, but it felt chaotic and unbalanced. The metaphorical visuals used to hit home some of the plot points were a bit exhausting and overused at times, but not so much that it made me hate this movie. I can't forget to mention that some of the documentary footage of the war and torture scenes were a tad gratuitous and unnecessary as well. All of that being said, I walked away understanding why the film was put together the way it was, not that I agree with every choice made. It's meant to show you how and why things happened they way they did while also being wildly caustic at the same time. And did it do that? Check!
But one key criticism I've been hearing repeatedly is that this movie hits you in the face with how terrible Cheney is/was which is condescending because it portrays this as new and shocking information. Let me address this criticism: I'd like to think of myself as a political junkie. I read about past presidents and historical events for fun. Yet, I still didn't know how Dick Cheney rose to power, nor did I fully understand the depths at which he reached to gain power and wealth. I also didn't know his wife Lynne's role in his story either. All I really knew before this film was he's a really bad guy (a true dick, if you will) and war criminal, but I was only 13 when 9/11 happened... which I think we'd mostly agree that event (and his actions there after) catapulted Cheney's behavior into a modest spotlight. I had no idea what was happening with regards to al-Zarqawi, Hussein, or bin Laden while still in grade school. All that to say 18 years later everything I know, I've sought out in bits and pieces. What's truly condescending is thinking there isn't more to learn about Dick Cheney and the damage his position in DC inflicted on the world. Plenty of people will learn something from this film and I think that's a positive thing.
Vice could've been better with more refined editing and a more direct message about the consequences of what Cheney did while roaming the halls of the House of Representatives, Senate, CIA, Pentagon and White House. However, not lost on me was the cautionary aspect of Adam McKay's storytelling to be careful of who you elect into power... democracy is a fragile thing and it has a meaningful impact when it's in the wrong hands. The parallels to what is happening today are readily apparent. This movie is divisive, so you may hate it, or you may hate yourself for enjoying it. Either way, it's anything but another boring biopic.
Brit's Pro Tip: Go into this movie with an open mind, and understand what you're seeing is loosely based on fact. I think it's worth the watch especially for the acting... and stay through the first part of the credits.