Christian Bale stars “Vice” – a tendentious picture about Dick Cheney and George W. Bush’ presidency that’s less fun than it seems.
“Vice” tells the story of Dick Cheney, the vice-president and the right-hand of George W. Bush. The film paints a broad canvas of Cheney’s career – from rough beginnings to the most defining moments in his political life.
Politics is a funny thing, because it depends entirely on the point of view. Bloodshed can be called a military conflict, while invading a country for unclear reasons – a political intervention. Words can mean everything and nothing and it takes some serious gut (or connotations) to reach the top.
It’s not a secret that politics is a dirty game for those ready to get filthy. Many countries witnessed a rise of a misplaced leader, fueled by corruption, greed, sickening ambition or – even worse – hatred. The U.S., according to McKay’s “Vice”, didn’t avoid that either. However, the director of “Vice” is certain that his audience doesn’t know that (and plenty of other obvious things).
Adam McKay’s perspective is heavily biased, focused on criticizing the former U.S. president and his right-hand, Dick Cheney.
While Bush, portrayed by Sam Rockwell, is a laughingstock here, it’s Cheney that we’re supposed to condemn. But telling a story about a controversial politician isn’t an easy job (just look at Paolo Sorrentino’s “Loro”). Giving voice to both sides is essential, because one-sided monologue quickly turns into straight-out propaganda.
That’s precisely what happens in Vice”.
To be frank, I’m nowhere near supporting Bush’s presidency, as well as his military interventions that smelled like oil from miles away. There was a certain degree to which Bush seemed like a supporting-role in a mysteriously governed mechanism.
What doesn’t seem fair though is implying that Bush was a half-wit cowboy as he’s presented in “Vice” – unless the concept for the whole story is using caricatures. Rockwell’s certainly nails the looks and style and I could go that far to say he fits McKay’s vision. Nevertheless, McKay’s not making a cartoonish mockery, or a satire that you treat lightly.
On the contrary – “Vice” is a bold, serious statement. A critique that screams loud enough to get a waterfall of Oscar nominations.
While Bush gets his portion of criticism, it’s Cheney who is the one to form the core of a government that drowned in lies, manipulation and jobs for the boys. He’s the Rasputin, the shadowy figure, who usurps power and feeds on it without hesitation. It all sounds like a great piece of material – on paper, because Christian Bale’s take on Cheney is the biggest sliver in the film.
Don’t get me wrong – Bale’s work is quite astonishing, but it begs for a full-bodied drama, a film closer to Gary Oldman’s last year “Darkest Hour”. Under the unbelievable body transformation lies a powerful role, one that beams with everything Cheney stands for – ambition, ruthlessness and hunger for power. Despite an undeniably great performance, Bale is completely off-balance in the bigger picture. McKay’s clearly sarcastic tone doesn’t support the dramatic, serious approach of Bale. They speak different languages.
Moreover, McKay’s fast-paced directing style (which worked marvelously in “Big Short”), misfires on the political grounds.
Among the comedic scenes, McKay imposes extremely biased views and leaves no space to question it, establishing himself as the only real authority. As in a scene, where he claims one particular event (and that event only) has led to the creation of ISIS. The blatant simplifying of things is purely manipulative, because the director is picky when it comes to presenting facts. Just like the politicians he wants to criticize.
There are moments, when “Vice” shows its bliss. An intriguing scene in which Bale and Adams wage a debate by quoting Shakespeare could have been sheer genius. But only if used in a film much more aware of the thin ice it walks on. Otherwise, it’s one of the moments when McKay’s self-indulging tone turns tiring.
In the end, “Vice” polarizes for wrong reasons. It seemed to me that this was exactly the point (to divide people based on their opinion), and if the answer is yes, then McKay has been successful. But speaking about the entertainment and the cinematic impact, it does just as little as every wannabe controversial film – scratches the surface and evaporates from your head just when the credits begin to roll.
Dir. Adam McKay
Hate Grade: 5.5/10