Former Saturday Night Live writer, actor and director Adam McKay is the man behind some of Hollywood’s biggest sidesplitting comedies; Anchorman, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, basically most of Will Ferrell‘s burgeoning film career, plus a name producing some of the industry’s biggest bombs, including December 2018’s Holmes & Watson. But, out with the old and in with the new, and what better way to start 2019 than with Vice; a release so whip-smart and snide, whilst also managing to anger critics and rake in award nominations.
Vice depicts the life and political career of Richard Bruce ‘Dick’ Cheney, who served as the United States’ 46th vice president, from 2001 to 2009. Played by Christian Bale (who recently won the Golden Globe for Best Actor (Musical or Comedy) for his portrayal), screen-Cheney is quiet, determined, calculating, and boring, an eerily accurate representation of – it’s been said – the most powerful VP the US has ever had. Amy Adams, perhaps Hollywood’s most chameleon-like actor working today, plays Lynne Cheney, Dick’s devoted hard-ass of a wife, someone nobody within the White House would dare mess with.
Between them, the pair worked their way from humble, countryside beginnings, to being an integral part of the most powerful government in the world. To give you some context, as a 20-something Cheney dropped out of Yale, was arrested twice for driving under the influence, and bagged himself five draft deferments for the Vietnam War (getting Lynne pregnant so that he had ‘dependants’ was a smart move). In Vice, we see Adams give Bale a good talking-to, urging him to change is ways, pack in the drinking, and make something of himself. Little did the two of them know that they were already on the path to bigger and better things.
After completing a degree in political science, Cheney went on to intern and then work for Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), then Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, working his way through various roles – White House Staff Assistant, Deputy Assistant to the president, Chief of Staff – until, finally, being picked by George W. Bush (played by the brilliant Sam Rockwell) to be his VP. The rest, they say, is history.
McKay opens Vice with a statement from the director himself, informing his audience that it’s is based on a true story, on events that actually happened – within reason. According to McKay and his team, Cheney is one of the most secretive men in the history of American politics, reflected at the end when we’re told that thousands of emails and various records have seemingly gone missing under Cheney’s influence. In that respect, take Vice with a pinch of salt. Aside from the warning, the film depicts Cheney’s rise to power, issues within his family unit, his health problems (he gave up heavy drinking for binge eating), eventual naming as VP, 9/11 and the start of the Iraq war.
While Adams’ name is normally the big draw for me personally, in this it feels like she’s playing ‘Amy the angry mom‘ wearing a blonde wig. Bale is the shining star; his Cheney is sly, manipulative, self-involved, all accurate adjectives if stories from inside the White House are anything to go by. The calculating look in his eyes, the long pauses before he makes a statement, the one-upping and power-plays – he has embodied Cheney, even down to his unnerving side-smile.
With an impressive supporting cast, including Carell, Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Tyler Perry, Eddie Marsan, Lily Rabe and Alison Pill, Vice has attracted a long list of nominations, alongside strong criticisms for its clumsy, overstuffed plot and ‘display of political hatred’. True, it’s incredibly detailed and occasionally hard to follow, but it’s worth it for the biting, tongue-in-cheek take-down on one of America’s most hated men. I can’t imagine what supporters of Cheney will think of it, but I left Vice feeling satisfied; laugh-out-loud funny, clever, and sharp, fans of McKay old and new will enjoy this one.