Usually I open these reviews with something snarky, but writer-director Adam McKay beat me to the punch in the opening moments of this film.
Vice is not a biopic, as the opening text goes on to make very clear. Dick Cheney is and has always been a very mysterious figure, and there is little to no way to know what was going through his mind during these specific events in his life. So how do you play it? Do you do your best and present the facts to the best of your ability with an Aaron Sorkin-esque script in your hand? Most, including me, would probably say yes.
But McKay doesn’t… at least not fully. He leans so far into black comedy that Vice, not unlike his last film The Big Short, begins to make you feel uncomfortable about how much you’re laughing at and with it, and the disastrous results of its narrative. There are no “walk and talks” or playwright diatribes – and that sort of works in the films favor, but really only if you believe in its politics.
What the film lacks in political tact, it makes up for with meta gags, perspective shifts, self-deprecation, fourth wall breaks, and anything else it can do to ease the viewer into the information dump to soon follow. The film is also lead by an interesting narrative device – a nameless narrator, portrayed by Jesse Plemons, who’s fate is intertwined with our main character. However, one of the films biggest flaws is its pacing, especially in the early going before you’ve had a chance to fully understand what type of movie McKay is going for.
Christian Bale once again transforms his body, both size and physical demeanor, and to the surprise of no one, he knocks it out of the park. Later in the film, when real life footage from the events taking place in the film are used, the actors are inserted in place of their real life counterparts. I’m telling you this now so you can avoid the argument on the way out of the theater, because particularly when Bale is featured in these scenes, it’s almost unnoticeable. The makeup does a lot of the work, but Bale sells it every step of the way. Likewise, Amy Adams’ Lynne Cheney is fierce and unapologetic, and is one of Adams’ best performances to date. The film also commits a decent size of its two hour and fifteen minute run time to Lynne, actually attempting to flesh out her as a character by showing just how much of an influence she seemed to be on the cold and secretive Dick.
Vice isn’t going to be for everybody, whether that be for political or creative reasons, but it knows what it is and what it aims to do. To put it in a baseball metaphor, as the film does many times once George W. Bush enters the film: Vice is a feast or famine hitter who comes to the plate looking at the left field bleachers. It doesn’t work all the time, but when it connects, it does serious damage.