Director: Adam McKay
Writer: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe and Jesse Plemons
When Vice was released in 2018 it received some of the most divisive opinions of film history. Some critics and audiences praised the direction, acting and humour, while others criticised those exact things. It’s not hard to see why the film generated such strong reactions. It only takes a few minutes on Twitter to see that we are living through a very divided time politically with extreme views. Vice isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. It begins with a disclaimer to say that while the film is based on a true story, it’s about a secretive person and the filmmakers tried their best to get things straight. The film then ends with a mid-credits scene where a focus group complain that the film has a liberal bias. It’s satire and everything in the film should be taken with a pinch of salt. There are historical inaccuracies that have been documented online, but the film tells you this itself at the start. This is supposed to be a black comedy and entertainment and it works as that.
Christian Bale, yet again, knocks it out of the park as former vice president Dick Cheney. He literally transforms into a new person, and you could go the entire film without recognising him. He was nominated for best actor at that year’s Oscars and several awards including a Golden Globe. Everyone is brilliant. Christian Bale is the standout performance, and the rest of the cast are equally as good. Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney is brilliant, as the driving force behind Dick’s career. Steve Carrell has the perfect blend of smarmy and charisma that makes his role believable, sickly, and funny at the same time.
The film is narrated by Jesse Plemons (Judas and the Black Messiah), who is quickly becoming one of my favourite actors. He is fantastic in everything that he’s in and really lifts the film whenever he appears on screen, just going about day-to-day life while telling us the story of Cheney. There’s also a great joke towards the end where Plemons’s gets involved heavily in the main plot.
There is a lot of great moments in the film, that really show how great writer and director Adam McKay is as a filmmaker. Aside from some clever scene transitions and here’s a scene in a restaurant where the waiter is listing their options about torture and Iraq as if they are dishes on the menu. There’s another excellent scene where President Bush (Sam Rockwell), is giving a speech about bombings that will be taking place, the camera pans down to show his foot tapping nervously under the desk and then the scene switches to a family cowering under a table, with the dad’s foot tapping, as bombs fall above.
The film does feel like a hit-piece on Cheney at times. It does confront this head-on with the mid credit scene, but it’s no wonder half the audience hated this film when it came out. One of the final shots is a still shot of Cheney’s heart after an operation. It’s literally black and the camera hangs on it for a long time. It’s stuff like this, which is why the film gained extreme reactions, both loving and hating the film.
There are still a lot of funny moments that really work well, if you don’t get caught up in the film. There are some laugh out loud moments and a lot of smile worthy humour. Contrasting that is some of the most horrific events of recent years. One of the opening shots is of 9/11, there are scenes of torture, death, war, the underground bombings in London, real footage of politicians, from both left and right parties and not just from America, showing support of the war in Iraq. It does paint a strong picture of the horror the war caused.
One of the best things the film does is demonstrate how carefully wording is chosen. The moment where a focus group reacts differently to the ‘death tax’, compared to ‘estate tax’, as well as ‘climate change’ compared to ‘global warming’. After the focus group scene it switches to real footage of newscasts and interviews where people use the terms and how this has shaped policies in the years since.
There is a lot of great things about Vice. The performances are outstanding, it does a great job of contextualising The War on Terror. It gives you a good idea of what Cheney is about, without you having to have prior knowledge. But it still feels very lengthy. It’s over two hours in length, and you feel every minute. It could really have done with some trimming down, especially in the early sections. Vice is worth watching if you enjoy satire and black comedies, but this isn’t going to change people’s opinions on Cheney and it has and probably will continue to create arguments from people.