Here’s a tip for any British actor who wants to be nominated for Best Actor at next year’s Oscars: Put on forty pounds and land the role of a balding politician in a biopic that requires hours in the makeup chair every day. It’s worked in the last two years. Today I’m gonna be talking about the 2018 comedy-drama film : Vice.
It stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, and Sam Rockwell and was directed by Adam McKay, played by Christian Bale, and follows his political career from his sort-of humble beginnings as an intern working under Donald Rumsfeld, played by Steve Carell, all the way through his time as Vice President and beyond. I was a bit politically precocious in my youth. The first presidential election I ever really paid attention to was Bush v. Gore in 2000.
I was ten years old at the time and I still have vivid memories of sitting in the living room watching MSNBC with my dad as the election results came in that night. I also have vivid memories of the aftermath of that night; both the short-term in the form of the Florida recount and those damn hanging chads, but also the long-term of the Bush presidency. At the time, I considered myself pretty politically informed. I wasn’t quite as invested in news coverage then as I am now, but I would bet I was probably the most politically aware kid in my elementary school. I have plenty of memories from the Bush years, but I have to admit that Dick Cheney was never really on my radar at the time.
My focus was always on Bush himself. So much so that as I walked into the theater to watch this movie, I could barely remember anything about Cheney other than that he had shot a guy in the head while quail hunting. Luckily, Vice serves as an – admittedly biased – history lesson on Cheney, filling the gaps in my recollection and knowledge. I was expecting this film to focus exclusively on his time as Vice President, but only about half of the film actually does. In true biopic fashion, the first half of the film spends its time looking at the early years of Cheney’s time in politics and frames the story in a way that fully lays out the steps and planning that went into his eventual rise to power. Vice 2018 is a bit heavy-handed with its political message, though that shouldn’t really surprise anyone.
I happen to agree with the general sentiments put forth in the film, so it didn’t really bother me, but I can see how this could be an irritating film to those with opposing political views. In fact, one of the central themes of this film was the ease with which people are politically manipulated. Cheney does it to Bush, but Rumsfeld first did it to Cheney during his own formative political years. The “What do we believe?” moment was certainly a turning point for Cheney and, eventually, the entire country. The focus group scenes also offered some damning insight into just how easily and frequently people are manipulated for political reasons.
Political content aside, this film is stylistically interesting. A biopic with narration isn’t entirely atypical, but Vice takes a surprisingly meta approach with it. At first, I didn’t like the narration very much. Ironically, it felt a bit impersonal at the start, however, I got used to it pretty quickly and it does pay off in an interesting way by the end. The comedic gags sprinkled throughout the film mostly hit (I particularly enjoyed Scalia’s Specials), but it was clear that they went over the heads of some of the people in my theater.
These stylistic forays interrupted the slightly more traditional parts of this film to keep things fresh enough throughout its runtime. Even the non-comedic sequences had some effective and unique storytelling, with the foot-tapping transition being perhaps the most impactful. There was some excessive B-roll, especially regarding fly fishing.
The Shakespeare soliloquy also went on far longer than it should have, but these types of moments at least gave us more time to admire Christian Bale’s utter physical transformation into Dick Cheney. Alright, time for the pros and cons. The first pro is the film’s style. Biopics are a very common genre these days, so it’s really easy to fall into the standard dull progression of this type of story. You know, just following the focal character from childhood through death, touching on all the major moments in their life without injecting any life into the film. This movie mixes that formula up. There’s a lot of time jumping, which isn’t always linear and the filmmakers utilize a narrator in a unique and clever way.
Then, of course, you’ve got all the comedic gags and sidebars that break up the story to prevent it from ever getting too monotonous or dull, which is especially important given its intensely political nature. The second pro has to be the performances. Whether you like the movie or not, you’ve got to give credit to these actors. Aside from maybe Steve Carell, they all really dissolve into their roles. Sam Rockwell had George Bush’s mannerisms down perfectly and Christian Bale blended seamlessly into the role of Cheney.
He was still physically recognizable when playing young Cheney, but by the second half of the film, with the old-age makeup on, she’s completely unrecognizable. Even though I agree with the film politically, I still think the filmmakers might have taken a few too many liberties with embellishments and exaggerations of the story and certain characters. I just have a really hard time believing that some of these people were so evil or so utterly malleable. I mean, I never liked the guy, but this movie really paints Bush as a complete buffoon. I’m gonna give Vice 3.5 out of 5 paws.
Despite its issues, I had a pretty good time with it, though I can’t imagine it’ll be one I watch too frequently. I would recommend Vice to liberal film fans. That’s not to say conservatives will necessarily hate this one, but I can definitely see how somebody of opposing political views could really be rubbed the wrong way by it. It’s intentionally inflammatory at times.
People who are apolitical might get a little bored with this one, but the film’s style may be enough to keep you interested as a fan of movies in general. If you liked Vice, I would recommend Lions for Lambs for a uniquely structured film that focuses on the human consequences and aftermath of some of the decisions made by characters in Vice.
If you like the snappy entertaining biopic style, you should check out American Made as well as Adam McKay’s first foray into drama: The Big Short. Alright, a couple of questions for you guys. First: Have you seen Vice? If so, what’d you think of it? And second: What’s your favorite film that required a dramatic physical transformation by one of its starring actors? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going. Alright, so if you got some enjoyment, insight or information out of this review.