“Vice” Movie Review

I’ve read some people recently talking about how they want things to go back to when things in politics and government were simpler. But here’s a film to offer a rebuttal to anyone who thinks that they’d rather live in those times than these ones. This politically-charged biographical comedy-drama was released in theaters worldwide on Christmas Day of 2018. Although it faced some stiff competition in the holiday market, it has managed to respectably well in the specialty box office with a total intake of $41.2 million thus far. With a production budget of around $60 million, it is the emerging studio’s largest production to date, and its success (Or lack thereof) could predict their future. Written and directed by Adam McKay, the Academy Award-winning man behind The Big Short, the film was originally set up at Paramount Pictures under the original title Backseat, announced right after the 2016 presidential election. Eventually, something happened where the distribution rights were given over to Annapurna Pictures, with Brad Pitt’s Plan B and Will Ferrell (Yes, THE Will Ferrell) co-producing. At one point during production, the director suffered a heart attack, much like his central protagonist. Based on the true story, Christian Bale stars as Richard “Dick” Cheney, a Wyoming native. Over the course of over 40 years, he goes from an alcoholic lineman to the CEO of the company Halliburton and to a big political player in Washington D.C. Then, in the early 2000s, Cheney was chosen to be the running mate of Texas Governor George W. Bush, played by Sam Rockwell. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks and other convenient circumstances, Cheney uses his private persona to become arguably the most powerful and influential Vice President in the history of the United States. I’ve enjoyed Adam McKay’s work on comedies like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and The Other Guys. He’s definitely not afraid to turn some heads with some material that’s truly “out there,” whether it be very wacky or very political. And I did like his dramatic debut in The Big Short, but some part of it just didn’t quite make it that great for me. Color me mighty intrigued to hear him tackle another relevant topic, especially with an all-star cast like this one. Particularly with someone like Dick Cheney, one of the most notoriously reclusive and secretive figures in politics, as the primary subject of focus. I can definitely say that I like Vice more than The Big Short, even if it’s not always entirely successful. It’s a bit hard for me to review this film objectively because, politically, I agree with several points McKay makes in this movie. Much like his previous film, he’s got a lot to say a pivotal part of America from the early 21st Century, and he says it with a lot of fury. Vice speaks a lot on the corruption, greed, and total amorality that people like Cheney and Rumsfeld used to gain more power and run the government to their liking. At times, it becomes in danger of letting all of that anger make it become more like incoherent babble. And like The Big Short, it most definitely holds the audience’s hand throughout the movie, using a narrator named Kurt, played wonderfully by Jesse Plemons, to explain concepts like the Unitary executive theory and “enhanced interrogation techniques.” For many viewers, this will probably be an issue, especially for those who have already lived through it once. But it does manage to balance both entertainment and education fairly well, as we start to understand the plot more as we learn more little details. Particularly because the two aforementioned ideas are very much used today by the Trump administration. Christian Bale has made a career out of being a chameleon, and he once again completely disappears as Dick Cheney. Considering how little is actually known of him in the public sector, it’s impressive how much he commits to the politician. With an unrecognizable look and around 40 pounds put on, his subtle movements and sly way of talking evoke the controversial man so much. Opposite him is Amy Adams as essentially his Lady Macbeth-esque wife Lynne, who proves herself a force to be reckoned with. You can tell that she desires a certain amount of power that women would’ve never been given when she grew up. Steve Carrell also shines as Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney’s political mentor and virtual partner-in-crime. He’s so slimy and unrepentant for all of his actions, that I hated watching his scenes, which is a testament to the actor. There’s also Allision Pill as Cheney’s gay daughter Mary, Sam Rockwell as the goofball of a president Dubya, Lily Rabe as Cheney’s ambitious older daughter Liz, Justin Kirk as the VP’s eyes and ears inside the bureaucracy, and a surprisingly serious Tyler Perry as General Colin Powell. As far as technical aspects go, Vice finds Adam McKay having more formal control behind the camera than his previous effort. Greig Fraser’s cinematography can be very dynamic, often switching between handheld scenes and Steadicam motions. This seemingly tries to reflect the state of the protagonist’s place in power or life, whether he’s totally in control of the situation or completely off-balance. The editing is done by Hank Corwin, who was previously nominated for an Oscar for his work on The Big Short. There are a number of freeze frames used throughout the film, some of which create hilarious results. It also rapidly moves between numerous events or atrocities, showing off a dichotomy of images that can be either disturbing or relaxing. Nicholas Britell, who’s seemingly becoming a red-hot star in Hollywood the last few years, composed and conducted the musical score. The main orchestral suite is a suitably dramatic and suspenseful one, utilizing melded strings and piano melodies to suggest that something (Or someone) is about to shake the world as we know it. There are also a handful of tracks that use more mysterious instruments such as oboes and trumpets. Interestingly, the sound as a whole feels distinctly American, most likely an intentional decision to incapsulate such a controversial figure and what he stood for. Lastly, there’s an unexpected mid-credits scene, which has arguably garnered the most controversy. Without spoiling anything, I can definitely say that it’s a very bold and scathing coda to everything the director had put forth prior to. We could debate about whether he’s right or wrong, but it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t smug while making it. And in all seriousness, depending on your views, it could hinder the message or thesis for the entire film. In any case, Vice is a messy but undeniably ambitious portrait of American politics and its biggest players. I’m not really convinced that Adam McKay is the generational spokesperson he’s making himself out to be, but he definitely wants to educate people while also entertaining them. Plus, we also get treated to some truly excellent performances from unrecognizable turns in Christian Bale and Amy Adams. Regardless of how well the film ultimately sticks the landing, I really appreciate the effort. Nothing more, nothing less.

Image result for vice poster 2018

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