Released: 26th December
Seen: 31st December
It’s a turbulent time to talk about politics, the chances of offending someone by stating an opinion is on the rise so clearly now is the perfect time to release a very politically charged biopic made by a bunch of left wing Hollywood people about a right wing political figure and the effects that his actions still have on the planet today. I can’t see a single person having an issue with this at all… so, for full disclosure I’m more on the left side of politics and that might color my opinion on some things in this movie and it might also mean you may not want to hear my opinion on the most politically charged movie of the year, I am totally aware of that and I need you to be aware before we go on because I don’t plan on holding back my opinion or sugar coating it so with that out of the way, let’s do this.
Vice is the story of the rise of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) from a drunken lout that got kicked out of Yale to the role of Vice President, a role that he managed to turn into the post powerful position in American politics for a brief period of time. Along his rise to the top, beside his wife Lynne (Amy Adams), Dick slowly learns how to operate in the capital with the help from his mentor Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell). Just when Dick thinks that he can’t go any higher, he gets the call from George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) that will not only change his life, but the lives of everyone around the globe in ways that we’re still coming to understand today.
Adam McKay has clearly found a winning biopic style, Vice shares a lot of similarities to his most recent film The Big Short. Both films tackle a fairly big complex moment in American history, both films play with time and have main characters address the audience, the use of a narrator, all of the same big stylistic choices that made The Big Short work so wonderfully appear here and in this new style of film, it’s certainly a good way to get the message across even if there are moments when that message can be just a little murky. Are we meant to see the true evil that was Dick Cheney? Are we meant to believe he was doing it all to impress his wife (Who is basically Lady Macbeth in this film, and I state that comparison because they literally break into Shakespeare at one point)? Was he just doing it because he had nothing better to do and destroying the world seemed like a fun Tuesday afternoon activity? We don’t really know, partially because this stylistic choice means that there isn’t much we can focus on
What helps is that the film itself is aware that there are holes in the story, people whose identities we don’t know or discussions we have no record of. Hell, the film opens with a card that states explicitly “We tried our fucking best” because Dick Cheney was secretive and it’s hard to know everything, but what they knew was enough to create a very compelling story about a man with a unquenchable thirst for power, even if it means he has to bend some norms over his knee. This does come at the cost of making George Bush just look like a complete patsy and effectively absolves him of everything he ever did, choosing to pin every bad action made by that white house on Dick Cheney and sure, Cheney should cop a fair chunk of the blame but it feels wrong to pretend that Bush didn’t have an active role to play.
The film is so focused on screaming “Hey, Dick Cheney was a dick!” that it gives a lot of other bad people a pass, and then tries to hand a pass over to Cheney in the final few minutes (AFTER he’s helped one daughter throw the other under a bus over the issue of gay marriage). While I get that they’re trying to do a stylistic thing here, their last minute dramatic attempt to say “Yeah, he did evil things but he had his reasons” feels like… well “Please don’t sue us Mr. Cheney”. Just saying, if you’re going to do a film where you call the man out on all the reprehensible things that he did, actually call him out and don’t apologize for it. He didn’t apologize so go for it! Just pretend that he’s one of his hunting buddies and you’re Dick Cheney hunting for quail and aim for the face goddamn it… oh, and yes, they show that moment and it’s a comedic highlight.
Even if the films attempt to make a heavy political point doesn’t quite work as well as they’d like, what works amazingly is the cast that just brings their A-Game. Christian Bale and Amy Adams in particular just pull out some of the most perfect powerful performances of the year. Steve Carell as Rumsfeld is a master class in how to create a character that everyone is meant to hate but still want to see more of. Huge shocker of the film was Tyler Perry who seems to do his absolute best work when he’s in drama’s, his portrayal of Colin Powell was a short few scenes but it was impactful and he absolutely sold me on who that man was at that time in history. The entire cast works wonderfully together and when they have to take these characters into a moment of strange stylism, they never break. It’s bizarrely fascinating seeing Dick Cheney and Lynne Cheney doing a full Shakespeare scene together that somehow feels like it belongs, but that works because Christian Bale and Amy Adams are spectacular together.
While this film is a heavily stylized left-wing portrayal of a right-wing vice president, it’s also just a generally good film that tackles some harsh important truths about the power that elected officials have and how they can misuse it and how that misuse can have ramifications for years to come. It also explores the idea that the worst people can have the best intentions and while I’m sure it’s going to provoke some serious political discussions about what Dick did, it’s also going to probably make his actions seem justified. The film has him gleefully laughing as he orders people to be tortured, but he did it to protect you so you should be OK with it. It’s hard to really tell what the movie is trying to call out in the grand scheme of things, but it has enough truly amazing moments that everyone should give it a go. It may be flawed but it was a lot of fun to sit through, a nice way to end 2018.
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