Three years after The Big Short, writer/director Adam McKay returns with another modern history retelling, moving from the financial crisis to the fascinating true story of Dick Cheney’s rise to power. Infusing many similar elements, such as creative fourth wall breaks, humorous editing, and untraditional structure, McKay has once again made a compelling and rage inducing film that takes the complexities of politics and lays it out in a way that is approachable. It’s a lot more cut and dry than The Big Short, but McKay is never claiming to be subtle, and this time he’s going for a deeper dive to see the factors that inspired the power couple of Dick and Lynne Cheney.
Based on a true story, Vice follows Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) from their early days following Dick’s withdrawal from Yale, and follows them as Dick rises to prominence within Washington. The film flashes forward at the appropriate moments to give us context, but for the most part its a sequential narrative, layered by McKay’s signature editing techniques, which utilize voice overs, freeze frames, intercut sequences, and other clever methods to make the point of each scene clear and add humor into the mix.
It cannot be overstated the transformation that Christian Bale makes; rarely is such a famous actor completely recognizable, and beyond the amazing work of the makeup department, Bale is able to explore how Cheney’s various opportunities and experiences shaped his work, and lead him down a sinister path that affected the world in countless ways. Amy Adams is also terrific here; she transcends the “wife” role that is common within biopics and sheds light on a woman who was unable to be the face of change, but could be the latent inspiration of it. The Cheneys here aren’t sympathetic, but their understandable, and McKay makes the best of his Macbeth and Lady MAcBeth duo.
Steve Carrell is also really great here as Donald Rumsfeld, another figure who’s path was commonly intertwined with Cheney’s, and their complex relationship and separate strives for power is fascinating to watch. There’s also a really fun side performance from Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush; while Rockwell’s interpretation comes off as a tad too goofy, he’s imminently watchable and brings insightful comedy to each scene.
Vice presents its story in a truly creative and accessible manner, reaping all the possible consequences of Dick Cheney’s life to create an upsetting and impactful film. The humor here is used to make the story more tangible, but its also used as a “laugh and shake our heads” sort of reflection on how ambitious political figures transformed the country in unchangeable ways. Still, its a reflection on Cheney himself, and questions what he hoped to achieve, and who he was unwilling to betray. What is his legacy, what would he change, and what did he hope to accomplish? Grade: A