"The Vice President is a mostly symbolic job. However, maybe if we came to a different... understanding."
Christian Bale is a devilish delight as former Vice-President Dick Cheney in this sharp political comedy from The Big Short’s Adam McKayHilarious and depressing in equal measure, this cutting portrayal of Dick Cheney’s rise to power manages to be both politically savvy and genuinely amusing, with plenty of fourth wall-breaking and drily funny voiceover segments.
Christian Bale gives a career-high performance as Cheney, who is slumped and dour in every day life and outlandishly animated when it comes to matters of George W Bush’s (Sam Rockwell) White House. We see most of Cheney’s adult life up to and including his well-publicised tenure as George W Bush’s Vice-President, with plenty of comment, satire and comedic effect thrown in on the way.
Perhaps fittingly for its subject, Vice has proved quite divisive amongst critics, with some claiming that it’s over-the-top, cartoonish and too slick for its own good. These are fairly reasonable criticisms of a film that leaves absolutely no room for interpretation of Cheney as anything other than a treacherous buffoon, which punctuates fantastic performances from Bale and Amy Adams, as Lynne Cheney, with filmmaking in-jokes and in-your-face satire.
The combination of humour and hard fact makes for an immersive experience
The film’s tone is sometimes odd – we’re reminded via the on-screen action, dialogue, asides and even old-fashioned title cards of all the downright appalling things VP Cheney managed to manipulate into existence, but viewing it through this comedic, satirical lens designed to elicit laughs is certainly unusual for political Hollywood. It works well though, as it did in the info-packed The Big Short – the combination of humour and hard fact makes for an immersive experience that involves the audience in more ways than one.
Bale’s performance is a masterpiece, assisted by some outlandish prosthetics; the film’s chronology isn’t linear, so the performance’s nuances are magnified with each time-jump. Both Bale and McKay do a masterful job of portraying the many sides of Cheney – vacillating between the deadpan, almost soulless warmonger politician and committed family man with slick ease.
It’s incredibly easy to forget it’s Oscar-winner and celebrated Batman Christian Bale behind Cheney’s sour jowls – both the transformative performance and phenomenal prosthetics work deserve high praise. It’s a killer impersonation, and would have won the internet’s heart as a spot-on Saturday Night Live impression – perhaps unsurprising, given McKay’s pedigree as a former Head Writer on the sketch show.
Bale may be the out-and-out star here, but the film is littered with huge performances from some of Hollywood’s best character actors playing some of the Bush II era’s most high-profile political figures – Steve Carrell is a clinically passive Donald Rumsfeld, Sam Rockwell is a perfect clueless Dubya, Adams’ Lynne is an intimidating tour de force, and we also get a glimpse of McKay’s vision for Condoleeza Rice (LisaGay Hamilton) and Colin Powell (Tyler Perry). The list of supporting characters – including senators, members of congress, reporters, judges and various other D.C. power players who lurk around in the background of Vice is seemingly never ending.
Boisterous, cynical, entertaining, dark, immersive, satirical, preposterous, absurd, hyper-meta, obnoxious, gleeful, historical, topical… there are lots of words and paradoxes to describe this film. What it is, more than anything, is ruthless.
McKay pulls no punches in laying his cards on the table – he doesn’t agree with Cheney’s politics to say the least, and he wastes no time on humanising or trying to come up with a rationale for some of the VP’s most well-known forays into foreign policy (i.e. the Iraq War, of course).
Boisterous, cynical, entertaining, dark, immersive, satirical, preposterous, absurd, hyper-meta, obnoxious, gleeful, historical, topical…
There’s a captivating blend of real, hard, upsetting fact and Hollywood comedy absurdism that makes this a compelling watch, whether you’re anti-Cheney or neutral. It’s very much in the style of The Big Short, even upping the ante with more direct addresses from characters, knowing casting, playful edits and news footage cut in amongst the action. It does seem a little too much at times, and the smug tone could easily become cloying were the lead performance not so thoroughly engaging.
You’ll be impressed by Bale, disgusted by Cheney and amused throughout Vice– but don’t expect to come away with a warm, fuzzy comedy feeling. The film’s gut-punch ending and constant reminder of the horrors of politics make for a thoroughly depressing experience – it’s horror masquerading as a comedy.
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