Adam McKay wowed us all with his shift from Will Ferrell comedies like Anchorman and The Other Guys to an analysis of the stock market crash of 2007, seen in his 2015 film The Big Short (for which he won an Academy Award for screenwriting). The writer/director continues on this shift to more serious subjects by taking on the character of Dick Cheney in the new biopic Vice.
Vice looks at the rise of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) from a mere drunk in Wyoming to the most powerful man in the world. We see the manipulation put in place with the help of his wife Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams); the perks of his relationship with Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), and his puppeteering as Vice President of George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell).
The film takes on a similar tone of The Big Short, in having many visuals and analogies helping distill and clarify the dense subject-matter. There is a reason why there hadn’t been films made about both the 2007 stock market crash and Dick Cheney, the stories were too dry for mainstream audiences. McKay’s innate humor and seamlessly editing with nature and food symbolisms help the audience understand the facts. The result of McKay’s unique tone is a light telling of the dark story with the help of a tongue-in-cheek narrator (Jesse Plemons) and an almost John Oliver-esque humor (McKay started as a Saturday Night Live writer).
McKay reunites with two of his The Big Short actors: Bale and Carell, and they are the two standouts in this film, with Bale giving the physical transformation of a lifetime. The welsh actor has always been known to go to extreme lengths to change physically for his films, but his Cheney is something else; you completely forget you’re watching the actor who brought Batman to life in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. In many films today, star power counts for a lot in terms of getting financing, unfortunately for audiences this means we see characters as the actors and not the other way around. With performers that are able to transform so drastically, this is a godsend in helping get viewers immersed in a journey. This spreads to the method acting that supposedly took place with Rockwell and Adams on set as well who are both great in intermittent appearances.
Cheney is a very controversial subject to put to the screen, and McKay is aware that in the current political climate a certain delicacy has to be in place. However, the filmmakers’ grasp of the subject, characters, and story helps them push their envelope. There is clear self-criticism of America in general, so that Vice seems more like a lesson than a political statement. In fact, the final two scenes of the film offer a balance and transparency from the filmmakers, the first showing Cheney speaking to the camera and making a case for the harsh decisions he made as Vice President, the second showing a focus group of Americans, two of which fight about conservatives and liberals (calling President Trump “President Cheeto”) while two girls ignore the commotion and comment about their excitement for the new Fast and Furious movie. They’re clear snapshots of society, some who are embroiled in harsh debate and others who, more tragically, don’t care at all.
Vice is an immersive biopic that is fast-paced and brings light and understanding to the story of an incredibly influential man that shaped politics and history for decades to come. The fabulous performances along with an expert hand at guiding this story makes Vice a film to indulge.