Director Adam McKay simply delivers facts about the former vice-president, performed by an all-star cast hidden beneath layers of latex
VICE written and directed by Adam McKay, with Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Steve Carell. An eOne release. 135 minutes. Opens December 25. See listing. Rating: NN
Vice, Adam McKay’s biopic of American power player Dick Cheney, is precisely the sort of furious political study Michael Moore wishes he could make. I don’t mean that as a compliment.
McKay’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning, legitimately great The Big Short finds him telling Cheney’s life story with the same heightened approach – breaking the fourth wall to address the audience, stylized montages, a bedroom scene in which Dick and his wife, Lynne, plot darkly in iambic pentameter à la the Macbeths – but the results aren’t nearly as potent.
Sure, it’s nifty to see Christian Bale’s eyes peek out from the snarling latex visage of the former vice-president, and to see other actors transformed into distorted versions of their real-life characters. Sam Rockwell’s nose gets bent as George W. Bush Steve Carell sports a fake chin as Donald Rumsfeld. Tyler Perry gets retrofitted into Colin Powell, because why the hell not, while LisaGay Hamilton is turned into a sort of walking scowl as Condoleezza Rice.
But there’s just not much here besides repeated howls of outrage at Cheney’s disregard for protocol, transparency and common decency as he shifted power from the Oval Office to his own, steered the U.S. to invade Iraq, shredded the Geneva Convention and generally warped the soul of America.
There’s no question that Cheney did all those things he also shot an old man in the face and told Pat Leahy to go fuck himself on the Senate floor. The most frustrating thing about Vice is that McKay simply re-creates those moments, and others, with an all-star cast. There’s no commentary, no satirical impact, no dawning horror – just an after-the-fact accounting, narrated by regular-guy Jesse Plemons and performed by a celebrity cast.
Only Amy Adams, as a particularly dead-eyed Lynne Cheney, makes a lasting impression – and her scenes with the couple’s lesbian daughter Mary (Alison Pill) hint at the drama that might have been if McKay had chosen to approach the story as a morality tale about gaining the world while losing your soul.
Although that would presume Cheney had a soul to begin with.
Residual momentum from The Big Short should carry Vice to a few nominations – acting nods for Bale and Rockwell, film editing and makeup, maybe even picture, director and original screenplay. But I’ll be really surprised if it wins anything.
This review is part of NOW’s 2018 Holiday Movie Special. Check out more here.