Vice

viceVice (Adam McKay, 2018) wr. Adam McKay

Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell

The story of Dick Cheney, an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.

I watched this in the same way I watched The Big Short, not necessarily understanding what was going on, and caring less.
I didn't choose the reviews that follow in support of any view I might have, but I do like what they have to say, and enjoy their writing.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never quoted William Shakespeare in a film review, but this particular movie dives into Shakespearean language at one point and so I think it's fair game. The words that keep ringing in my head regarding Adam McKay’s Vice are courtesy of the bard: 'Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing'. ... The film lacks insight, ingenuity, and intensity, skimming the surface of history like a drunk guy at a holiday party who read a Wikipedia entry that he really wants to talk to you about right now. ... Brian Tallerico. [worth reading the whole thing]

McKay’s approach to his material is anything but taciturn, pocking the surface of his story with stylistic ruptures. He makes use of Eisensteinian intellectual montage, as when Cheney secures the promise of a historically powerful vice presidency from his running-mate-to-be, George W. Bush—Sam Rockwell, tweaking his gormless hillbilly act from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). Cheney’s establishing his dominion over his ostensible future boss is matched to images of his favorite pastime, fly-fishing, the idea being of course that he’s reeling Dubya in. In a former life McKay was a Saturday Night Live writer and director of the daringly dumb comedies Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and Step Brothers (2008), and many of his formal feints in Vice are essentially played as punchlines ... Speaking only for myself, I don’t respond well to jes’ folks’ plainspoken come-ons, and I don’t need a pat, self-defining cinematic experience like Vice any more than I need someone to cut my food into bites. Nick Pinkerton.

The impersonations in Vice are often inspired, and they could have supported major performances if the script had included dialogue of any substance. The physiognomy and gestural accuracy of Christian Bale in the leading role is a study in itself: he catches the downward crook of the lip, the wised-up half-smile, the flicker of contempt that was also a grimace. Cheney knew better, deeper, more, his look seemed to say; and whatever you were saying, the talk was hardly worth his while—that unspoken message intimidated many and put off the rest. The set of the jaw was the natural counterpart of the heavy gait; someone so sure of control had no need to be seen at the front of the pack. Ambition is the heart of this puzzle, and Bale makes the motive as opaque as ambition always is. ...
The film goes off the rails half-a-dozen times: the scene where Cheney tells a penis joke to the murmured approval of Kissinger and Ford; the scene where the Cheneys recite a soliloquy-duet to explain their hopes and fears in pseudo-Shakespearean gobbledygook; the scene where a waiter offers Cheney the latest dishes: Enemy Combatant, Extraordinary Rendition, and Guantánamo, and Cheney says, 'I’ll take them all'; the scene where the narrator gets hit by a car and he turns out to be the donor for Cheney’s heart transplant; the gruesome and pointless detail with which the surgery is enacted; and the final punt of the gag-a-thon, a focus group over the closing credits that ends with traded insults and a fistfight. By contrast, the handling of Cheney in Oliver Stone’s W. (2008) was straightforward and free of meretricious gimmicks.
Vice knows enough to have taught a solid lesson—after all, nobody under twenty-five has a vivid memory of any of this—and major talents were lined up to collaborate. But the result is a shambles. Like the genre of vaguely left-wing comedy news that took off and prospered in the Bush–Cheney years, Vice substitutes a hilarious knowingness for analysis. The narrative is so splayed and jumbled it can teach nothing to people not already in the know; even for the sophisticated, it is a hodgepodge, a half-hearted reminder. The gravity of the moral indictment is fatally undercut by the dispensable bright ideas that were not dispensed with, and creeping around the edges is the lazy conceit that we are a nation of morons anyway. More disheartening than all that is promised and not performed is the space on the shelf that Vice will now occupy. It takes the oxygen out of the subject and, for a few years to come, will discourage anyone from making the truer and more somber film the history deserves. David Bromwich.

Vice, in its combination of political critique and dramatic reenactment, recalls The Big Short, the earlier film from writer-director Adam McKay (of Anchorman fame) that featured many of the same cast. Though not as impressive as The Favourite and BlacKkKlansman, Vice is, at least, formally ambitious. Ostensibly a biopic of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) and his rise to power, it plays like a critical essay about the systemic and personal abuses of the American right in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In an industry dominated by sentiment and melodrama, it is nice to see a biographical film attempting a more intellectually engaged approach to its subject. At the same time, its critique is fairly obvious – the atrocities of Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib etc., are widely recognised as such – and its tone is, at times, rather smarmy. Still, it offers some insight into an often overlooked figure in the corridors of American power. Ari Mattes, The Conversation.

References and Links

Wikipedia page
IMDb page


Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 18 January, 2019 | Now: 9 March, 2019