“Are you even more ruthless than you used to be?” asks an incredulous Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) to Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), a question that earns more than a few chuckles from audiences of writer/director Adam McKay’s new political comedy/drama, Vice.
Vice jumps back and forth in time while chronicling the life and career of Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney. The film is inspired by true events and provides a look at Cheney’s backstory prior to his involvement in politics through his period as one of the country’s most powerful VPs. As portrayed in the film, Cheney was a hard-drinking unimpressive young man forced to shape up and get his act together or else he’d lose his girlfriend, Lynne (Amy Adams). Lynne tells him as much in one of the film’s strongest scenes.
Cheney, determined to learn all he can about the political arena, becomes Donald Rumsfeld’s personal assistant. The quiet and watchful Cheney learns all he can and when Rumsfeld ends up in the White House as part of the staff, Cheney follows him in.
Over the course of his career in politics, Cheney becomes the Secretary of Defense under one administration and the Chief of Staff under another. Later, when it appears Cheney is finished with politics and has transitioned into private industries as the CEO of Halliburton, Texas Governor George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) calls asking Cheney to be his Vice President in his quest for the White House.
After making it clear to Bush he would be the one to actually handle the more mundane duties such as foreign policy, the military, and energy, Cheney agrees to joining the ticket as VP. When Bush wins the election, Cheney begins to use his power to change the landscape of politics and the world.
Written and directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Anchorman), Vice is a political satire with a top-notch cast and some stand–out performances. Unfortunately, it’s attempts at comedy miss their mark. The film is all over the place, leaping back and forth in time for no other reason other than to be different. The confusing time shifts ruin the film’s pacing and don’t allow it to settle into a comprehensible rhythm.
The best performance in the film is delivered by Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney. Adams portrays Lynne as a determined, supportive, far-right Republican wife. The film shows that without Lynne’s help, love, and drive, Cheney would never have reached very far in politics. She steals every scene she’s in and has terrific chemistry with Bale. (Adams and Bale previously worked together on American Hustle and The Fighter.)
Christian Bale delivers an intriguing performance as Cheney when he’s portraying the younger version of the man trying to climb the political ladder and striving to make his wife proud. But when Bale portrays an older Cheney as the VP, his performance becomes more of a caricature of the man.
The writing feels a bit heavy–handed and the constant intrusive narration detracts rather than enhances the movie’s attempt at insight into Cheney. But by far where the film truly fails is in not bringing to the screen any new information and insight into its main character. Unfortunately, Vice is nothing more than an empty character attack on an unpopular politician.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violent images
Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2018