Vice (2018) Movie Review: Christian Bale Saves a Self-Righteous Biopic

After hitting it big with The Big Short, winning an Adapted Screenplay Oscar in the process, director Adam McKay attempts to tackle the Bush administration with the Dick Cheney biopic Vice. He even uses the same seriocomic filmmaking approach that he demonstrated with The Big Short. However, Vice neither possesses any sharp wit nor does it pack an emotional punch. It does try to have it both ways by acting as a satire and a heavy drama but it doesn’t know what it wants to be. As a result, Vice ends up being the most tonally haphazard film I’ve seen this year.

That being said, if there is anything about this film that is consistent, it’s the commanding performance by Christian Bale as Dick Cheney. It goes without saying that Bale is an immensely transformative actor and he manages to physically disappear into the role of Dick Cheney. But he still manages to present Cheney’s calculating and detached nature with his hollow, emotionless face. Bale becomes Cheney in both body and soul and while it interestingly doesn’t equate to his best work, it still is a demonstration of his consistency as a performer.

Nearly matching him tit for tat is Amy Adams as Dick’s wife, Lynne, who proves to be just as ruthless and cunning as he is. The only reason she nearly matches him tit for tat is because the film doesn’t give her as much to work with. Adams is reliably good as she always is and even delivers a performance of superb villainy that provides shades of her work in The Master. It’s just that the film needed more of her. Same goes for Alison Pill and Lily Rabe who are utterly wasted as Dick and Lynne’s daughters, Mary and Liz.

Sam Rockwell is also underutilized as George W. Bush to the point where his role is a borderline cameo. However, it might’ve been purposeful to show that between Bush and Cheney, Cheney was the true brains and puppet master of the duo. Plus, Vice is strictly about Dick Cheney hence the film’s title.

It’s about his journey to becoming a Vice President that started from when he was a White House intern during the Nixon administration. While the film attempts to portray the seriousness of Cheney’s thirst for power, it still becomes hampered by its tacky satirical approach. For instance, there are lengthy pop-culture montages that are inserted pretty randomly and serve no purpose.

There’s also a scene where Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) are having dinner and as the waiter (played by Alfred Molina in a cameoed role) is telling them about the specials, he ends up telling them the ways that they can toy with the country like handling Guantanamo Bay and whatnot. It’s a ham-fisted attempt to explain how politicians like them can do whatever corrupt thing they choose to and quite frankly, it’s not as sharp as it thinks it is. This kind of colorful filmmaking style may have worked fine in The Big Short. But here, it’s just overkill.

That particular dinner scene is pretty much a summation of the movie itself. Vice is a movie that acts like it’s incredibly witty while offering powerful political commentary but it’s not as sharp as it likes to believe that it is. Aside from the performances by Christian Bale and Amy Adams, Vice is a complete mess. An inconsistent, self-righteous mess.

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Matthew St.Clair

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