MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
I’m not quite sure what kind of film Adam McKay was attempting to make with this biopic about former Vice President Dick Cheney (Bale). The snarky title card at the beginning promises intriguing speculation about this political force of nature. The conclusion of the movie wants to draw a through line connecting the Bush/Cheney administration to our current president.
Neither premise is fulfilled to satisfaction.
The film’s screenplay seems to assume that its audience needs to be educated about Dick Cheney’s ruthless ambition, but it spends most of its screen time telling us stuff we already know. Between the 24/7 news coverage and the omnipresent Internet this administration received constant scrutiny (especially after the Twin Towers fell in 2001 and we entered into war with Iraq). Cheney never denied his involvement in advising George W. Bush about major decisions and his domineering presence no doubt inspired the making of this movie.
However, McKay tries to cover too much history in too little time. The film initially reviews Cheney’s hard living and academic underperformance in college, primarily to set up a scene in which his wife Lynne (Adams) tells him to get his act together. Although Vice seems to want to turn Lynne into Lady Macbeth, orchestrating her husband’s moral progress, the film can’t quite commit to this wholeheartedly. And its compassionate portrayal of Cheney’s love and support for their daughter Mary (Alison Pill) – who comes out as a lesbian – humanizes the Vice President even more. This is not a bad thing, but it undercuts the overall tone of the film.
Christian Bale put on some serious weight (as well as makeup), and he does an above average impression of Cheney but, the performance and screenplay underplay the ruthlessness that was on full display at the time. Sam Rockwell’s sympathetic portrayal of George Bush also refuses the easy choice of broad caricature. In spite of its desire to vilify Cheney, with so much back pedaling the movie fails to reach its destination.
A mysterious narrator (Jesse Plemons) adds little to the movie except a disappointing (and unexpectedly shocking) revelation of his identity by the film’s end.
Vice is a real misfire from writer-director McKay. In his defense, he used this same scattershot technique to better effect in 2015’s The Big Short, which explained America’s mortgage crisis (a topic that needed explaining). Hopefully McKay’s gifts will find a better focus in the future.
But here is the sermon for this morning: Avoid Vice at all costs (except maybe basic cable).
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Two halos: A misguided semi-satirical movie that misses the mark beyond belief.
Two pitchforks: Strong profanity; heavy drinking.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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