Review by J.T. Johnson
“Vice” is the new political drama film from writer and director Adam McKay. At the end of the film, the filmmakers point out their own liberal ideology, meaning that the movie does not paint a pretty picture of our 46th Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale). This means that the film will inevitably split audiences and if you are more conservative, then you probably won’t like the movie and if you’re liberal, you probably will.
However, as I watched the movie, I realized that the story comes off more as a tragic political drama as written by William Shakespeare. You have the lead craving power, his wife that whispers in his ear and encourages him to take power by any means necessary, a king (or president, in this case) that is easily manipulated and several players that will help the lead rise or fall. I’m not the only one that picked up on this vibe either as the film actually has a moment where it speculates how a conversation may have went had it been written by the Bard himself.
The movie opens with a disclaimer saying that while it tries to present the truth of Dick Cheney’s life, they have to admit that Cheney himself is a very secretive man. To that end, I would say that if you want to get down to the truth of Cheney or the administration of George W. Bush, then go do your own research after the movie. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy a rather witty, dramatic and sometimes comedic telling of Cheney’s life.
The movie tells Cheney’s origin story as a rough and tumble young man that almost loses his wife Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams) before rising up as a political insider in Washington, D.C. It explores his friendship with Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) and how he became President Bush’s (Sam Rockwell) VP. It also tells the story of how Cheney used his position differently than past Vice Presidents and became one of the most powerful men in the country in a position that doesn’t have that many powers.
In other words, the film supports the idea that it was Cheney, not Bush, that ran the country from 2001 to 2009. The whole idea that this secret “shadow government” existed is nothing new. Is it true or not? Well, that’s really up to you to decide after you do some research after the movie, but the idea does make for some damn fine entertainment.
One thing that I was aware of as I watched the film is that I probably just watched Bale secure his second Academy Award for Best Actor. His performance is spot on as he disappears into the role and only Cheney remains. He shows that while Cheney does have a couple of things that he loves in life, such as his family, he’s not afraid to push them under the bus for his pursuit of power.
As strong as Bale is as Cheney, though, Adams is equally as impressive as Cheney’s Lady MacBeth, Lynne. Since Lynne lived in a time where women couldn’t really pursue power, she had to urge her husband on as he rose to prominence in Washington. Often times, the wives in political dramas are the characters you care for as they reluctantly follow their husband’s political aspirations, but this film establishes a woman who craves power just as much as her husband and is even less concerned with how it’ll affect those around them.
Then there are the supporting characters. Rockwell turns in a solid supporting performance as Bush and I would love to see an entire film with him playing Bush. Also at the top of his game in the supporting department is Carell as the utterly ruthless and outspoken Donald Rumsfeld. Think about him as Michael Scott without any heart whatsoever and his mean remarks come not from being an idiot but from being a truly cruel and cynical human being.
As mentioned before, the film will undoubtedly be shouted down by conservative viewers while liberal viewers will definitely love it. I just found that it was a great piece of drama with astounding performances and it is definitely one of the best films of the year.