Vice (2018) Blu-ray Review: A Smug, Insulting Biopic

In a perfect world, the cast of Vice would be in a movie that is compelling and maybe doesn’t play to the beat of every other biopic out there. But this is not a perfect world, and, while the film is certainly different from others that are based on true events, it’s far from being a compelling feature. Instead, what we are given is Adam McKay’s tonally inconsistent, self-indulgent satire that wastes its cast and spends too much time trying to determine if it wants to mock all of its characters or be serious and try to earn some brownie points and a few tears for the film’s more dramatic moments.

If you found McKay’s previous film, The Big Short, to be condescending and incoherent, Vice is much worse in the fact that the Funny or Die co-creator now has an Oscar to his name and feels the need to treat his audience like they’re bigger idiots than he did the first time around. And yet, he still has no clue how he wants to tell the story.

Christian Bale plays Dick Cheney both pre-vice presidency and during. In some of the earlier scenes, it’s pretty clear that it’s Bale portraying a younger version of the would-be vice president. It’s not until the film progresses into the later years, when Cheney is taking his first steps into the political world, that the transformation begins, and the Oscar-winning actor magically disappears under a bunch of makeup. If there is something positive to say about this movie, it’s that Bale is unrecognizable in his portrayal of Cheney. The makeup department deserves major props for nailing the look so well, and Bale for going to extraordinary lengths to pack on a bunch of extra weight and to capture Cheney’s scowl and scratchy voice.

It’s not just Bale who underwent hours of makeup application to look like Cheney. The other actors involved all look like the people whom they portray, and, in some cases, you have to do a second glance or you will think McKay actually cast the people themselves. It’s tremendous work, and it would be a lot of fun to watch these actors in something that isn’t this movie. Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney is a perfect choice and looks the part. Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush looks and sounds a lot like the former president. Tyler Perry is briefly in the film as Colin Powell, but is a spot-on choice for the former secretary of state. The only questionable performance is Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. Carell looks the part with the right amount of prosthetics. But when he says something, it’s like he’s not even trying to get into character.

Where Vice derails is right in the very beginning, when a text explains how the film is “a true story,” but then goes on to say it’s actually as close to the truth as they could get. “We did our f—ing best,” the text concludes. Looking at the final product, they clearly didn’t do their “best” to get to the truth of the story, as every single moment is a display of a very broad generalization.

Like The Big ShortVice attacks its viewers with information that it feels they should be outraged by. But they’re not outraged by it, because they’re too busy enjoying themselves at parties or they’re too busy with their long work hours or some other excuse. Narration provided by Jesse Plemons explains a lot of the material that the film feels is too complicated for its viewers to understand. Granted, there is a lot of political jargon that people might not get, kind of like how there was financial jargon people might not get in The Big Short. But McKay doubles down on the hand-holding and even comes across as more vitriolic than before and it’s off-putting.

There are moments in Vice that are meant to be funny, and they’re not. McKay’s approach, as initially indicated in the opening text, makes it seem like he wants to tell a true story, but could only gather as much information as he could that was readily available. Therefore, he decides to make Vice more of a satire. At least, we think that’s what he wants to do. It’s almost like even McKay didn’t know how to approach a biopic about Cheney’s rise to power and just decided to do whatever he wanted, whether it made sense or not.

The directing is all over the map. In one scene, there’s a faux end credits sequence that makes it seem like McKay is rewriting history for the sake of getting some laughs out of the audience to alleviate the horror of the subject at hand. Another scene shows Cheney as he’s recovering from one of his many heart attacks, and his family is by his bedside preparing to say goodbye – tears in their eyes and all. The dialogue bounces from being serious to being something that would appear in a Saturday Night Live skit, especially when Rockwell comes in as George W. Bush.

As a viewer, it’s insulting to see a film tonally bounce back and forth like this and then realize that we’re watching a director go on a 132-minute rant about how, in his mindset, Americans are stupid, and he feels like he is the only person saying something important. With the amount of attention put on the makeup, costumes, and set designs, one would think that there would be some investment into the characters to make them interesting – whether they’re good or bad. But Vice is too focused on desperately trying to tell people that its opinion is how people should feel, and there’s no other way to look at the situation. There’s never a moment in which we are intrigued by the character’s actions or by the plot development.

The Blu-ray for Vice comes with a 1080p widescreen presentation and a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The film begins with a retro text and some moments look a little grainy, but it seems that was the intention. However, later on in the story, some of the image quality still had random dust specks appearing throughout. The audio is a 5.1 surround sound track, and did not have any noticeable issues. The special features consist of Gaming the System, which gives viewers a look at the making of the film. The Music of Power talks about a musical scene that was originally supposed to appear in the film but was then cut. The deleted scenes contain said musical scene in its entirety, as well as a scene that plays like a 10-minute short film about Lynne Cheney’s life before she and Dick got together.

Say what you will about Dick Cheney and his actions. The only reason it seems Vice exists is just to enrage people rather than educate and engage them. And it’s likely they’ll be more upset with McKay’s smug, YouTube educational video-like approach rather than what actually happened. The people who didn’t like Cheney in the first place won’t be persuaded to dislike him more because of what this movie has to say. But I don’t think even McKay knows what he wants to say.

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David Wangberg

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