Release Date: December 25, 2018
Director: Adam McKay
MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 132 Minutes
Adam McKay’s first foray into biographical comedy came to us in 2015 with The Big Short, a cracking ensemble piece about the 2008 housing market collapse that earned five academy award nominations, including a win for Best Adapted Screenplay. Now, McKay is back in the political hot seat with Vice, the story of perhaps the most influential and ruthless vice presidents we’ve ever had, Dick Cheney.
Christian Bale plays Cheney in a casting choice that, at first thought, may seem slightly perfunctory, given the little aesthetic similarities between the two men. But Bale, with the aid of some prosthetics, somehow transforms into the Batman-villain-esque persona of Cheney with a natural grace, embodying his cadence and mannerisms to a T.
McKay opens the film stating that everything we’re about to see is as true as they could make it, a necessary preamble to a film that, just like The Big Short, seems entirely too comically ridiculous to be true. We see a drunken, younger Cheney swerving lane to lane while speeding down a lonely Midwestern road before getting pulled over and arrested by a trooper. It’s a stark contrast to the always composed, stone-faced leader that we would all know several decades later.
We float through Cheney’s life, from his relationship with his wife, Lynne – played by the always incredible Amy Adams – to his internship under the foul-mouthed sleeze Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) to, finally, his position as “veep” under George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell, in an expert piece of casting).
Like The Big Short, McKay periodically pulls back from Cheney’s narrative to give audiences additional context on his actions and the state of the country as a whole, frequently obliterating the fourth wall and turning the film into something of a satirical documentary.
Narrator Jesse Plemons’ character appears only briefly, but when he does, it makes for the most impactful moment of the film, one that briefly strips away the comedy of it all and delivers an absolute gut-punch, reminding us why Cheney left office with an approval rating of 13%.
While it may not paint the most flattering picture of Cheney or his colleagues, Vice portrays the human side of the man, something most of us have never seen prior, though, at most, it only shows that he’s a sentient person capable of emotion. His self-serving nature and power-hungry ego prevented him from being much more than a devilishly cunning politician who knew how to play the bureaucratic game of the United States’ government better than anyone else.
Bolstered by award-worthy performances from its powerhouse cast, Vice is an astoundingly funny, entertaining and revelatory look at one of the least funny and entertaining people to ever enter U.S. politics. It’s only a matter of time before we see McKay tackle our current presidential situation, and I’ll be sitting the front row, ready with my popcorn in hand.