In 2018’s Vice, director Adam McKay explores the political climate of right-winged America from the 70’s to the mid 2000’s, as well as providing an overview of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s career.
I do admit that my knowledge of American politics and history is extremely limited, however, I would argue that this fact simply emphasises McKay’s missed opportunity. The movie fails to give the viewer a deep understanding of Cheney’s rise to power. At times, Cheney’s depiction is cynical and mocking; other times it’s sympathetic. This lack of focus is its downfall.
It also falls short of being the brutally honest commentary on American politics and values it could have been. McKay often creates bathos and irony with juxtaposing imagery and music. Shots from inside DC and Cheney’s home are interjected with real viral clips. Combined with unexpectedly low-quality CGI, occasional grainy filters, and a mysterious narrator, the film feels like an informative home video. Unfortunately, the odd pacing, unengaging dialogue, and the lack of focus, results in a movie that is neither entertaining nor educational. McKay also seems to struggle to find a balance between bold humour and dark underlying themes. Perhaps the film says more with what it avoids, than what it mentions.
This movie is certainly not without its positives, though! Firstly, the cast give excellent performances. Amy Adams and Christian Bale (unsurprisingly) are utterly convincing as Second Lady and Vice President. As we have come to expect from them, Adams and Bale both nail their characters’ accents. Steve Carell’s performance as Donald Rumsfeld is also a high point in the film. Bale in particular has nailed Cheney’s mannerisms, from his soft, quiet way of speaking, to his rounded posture. His portrayal is especially commendable, because Cheney was known for being (dare I say!) quite a dull, unlikeable person, and I believe Bale managed to elevate the character as much as possible.
The makeup and costume department also did a wonderful job. Though the costumes don’t take centre-stage, the array of business suits, dress suits and pyjamas help to recreate the time period. The style of Cheney’s glasses also change reflecting the current trend, which I thought was a nice detail. His makeup and hair is perhaps the most believable ageing-up I have ever seen, making Bale’s transformation into Cheney easily one of the best aspects of the film.
Personally, I believe it is wrong for movie-goers to expect a movie to have exactly what they want to see, without doing at least some prior research. The wrong genre can easily make or break an enjoyable experience. In the case of Vice, one could easily be misled to believe that the biopic will be filled with juicy details and political drama, but this is not the case. The viewer isn’t given clear guidance in terms of political stance, but the unreliable biased narration also prevents it from being open to interpretation. Ultimately, McKay’s Vice does not deliver where it should, and this leads to an unsatisfying film.
– Amy Milner