We live in times when the Kardashians having more air time than actual news on television. Meanwhile, comedians like John Oliver, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah deliver, even though highly satirized, focused reports about what’s going on in the world. So it’s not surprising that this year’s most brilliant political movie, which is a portrayal of none other than “Vice” Dick Cheney, is written and directed by Adam McKay, who came to fame as director of “Anchorman,” “Step Brothers” and other comedies starring Will Ferrell.
McKay already showed with his last film “The Big Short” that his skill-set is not limited to comedy. He even won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. For “Vice” he teams up again with the production company of “The Big Short,” Plan B (“12 Years a Slave,” “Moonlight”). While the financial drama was rather documentary-like (with the exception of Margot Robbie explaining mortgage-backed securities and subprime loans while sipping champagne in a bathtub), “Vice” opens the satire floodgate to a point where the viewers find it hard to believe what they see on the screen, but it’s based on information that can be collected.
McKay opens his movie with Cheney (Christian Bale) getting arrested for DWI, and his then future-wife Lynne (Amy Adams) pressures him to do something with his life. He does, and the story quickly jumps to the start of his career in Washington. Working underDonald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), he gets his first office in the White House in the late ‘60s . Cheney goes on to become Assistant to the President and White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Gerald Ford (Bill Camp), and from there he continues a long and successful career in politics and the private sector.
When George W. Bush Jr. (Sam Rockwell) runs for President, Cheney first turns down the offer to run as his vice presidential candidate. However, after realizing how easily he can manipulate Bush, Cheney accepts the mainly symbolic position under the condition that he takes control of the “mundane” jobs relating to bureaucracy, military, energy and foreign policy, making him the most powerful Vice President in US history. Following 9/11, his power even broadens and wars ensue in Afghanistan, and for the second time in Iraq, which have an impact on foreign policy today, more than 15 years later.
McKay covers more than four decades of US history and the audience witnesses it first hand as the camera is always in the center of power and documents how decisions are made and by whom. Especially in the later years, before the second war in Iraq, Cheney’s politics become highly controversial, especially in reference to Saddam Hussein’s ostensible arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and other scandals that followed. Such a dissection of US politics hasn’t been seen since Oliver Stone’s heyday and it is presented with an ironic smirk, which makes the story quite engaging, despite its controversial subject.
However, McKay’s portrayal of Cheney is not one-sided: In a surprising scene, he reacts in a sympathetic manner to his daughter’s coming out, while her conservative mother remains silent. Dick Cheney a liberal family man? This is a picture the public has rarely seen of the neo-conservative politician.
The ensemble does a remarkable job, and there will be plenty of awards coming in the new year. Perfectionist chameleon Christian Bale is hardly recognizable, and he perfectly captures Cheney’s personality and diction, with the make-up department taking care of the rest, which will also draw Oscar-attention. Bale had to sit for up to four hours in the makeup chair, often twice a day, but the effort surely pays off in this perfect illusion.
Amy Adams as his wife Lynne and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush (with a huge fake nose) continue their outstanding careers with formidable performances, but the true scene-stealer of the film is Steve Carell as foul-mouthed Donald Rumsfeld. He clearly had fun embodying that character, and it makes you wonder how close to reality this performance really is.
McKay’s direction is on point. His fine nose for comedic timing and his noteworthy cast make this potentially dry subject one of the most entertaining movies of the year, without turning it into a simple comedy: it’s funny because it’s true! The script, also written by McKay, is extremely well researched, which is particularly notable because “Big Time,” as George W. Bush calls Cheney, is known to be very private, and he surely wasn’t involved in this project.
“Vice” is an entertaining history lesson and biting satire rolled into one. Adam McKay delivers his best movie to date. The amount of information he packs into these roughly 130 minutes is incredible and so is is the way he presents it. Merriam-Webster defines satire as “trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly“ and here it exposes the biggest “Vice” ever, creating one of the best movies of 2018. Don’t miss this fantastic film, which will be one of the major Oscar contenders in the coming year!
Overall Rating: 10/10
Written & directed by Adam McKay
Produced by Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Megan Ellison, Kevon J. Messick, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay
With Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons, Eddie Marsan, Lily Rabe, Bill Pullman, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp
Cinematography by Greig Fraser
Edited by Hank Corwin
Makeup by Greg Cannom
132 min, R-rated