Bloated, pompous, self-serving — these are all words to describe Vice President Dick Cheney. They also describe Vice, the biopic about his life and career.
Written and directed by Adam McKay, the brain behind Anchorman and The Big Short, the movie follows Cheney's ascent to power, from lying in his own vomit at Yale, to lying in the oval office. Vice attempts tell a sweeping story about the power and greed of politics and instead offers an exhausting sprawl, heavily reliant on tedious gimmicks.
When we meet young Dick (Christian Bale, extra beefy), he's hanging power lines for a living, having recently been kicked out of Yale. After two DUIs, his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) tells him to clean up his act, so he becomes a congressional intern and begins his long career working with Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrell). From there, Cheney works his way up the D.C. ladder, until democrat Jimmy Carter wins the White House, sending him to the business world. Cheney is the CEO of Halliburton when George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) begs him to be his running mate. He says yes, but only if he can be the most powerful V.P. of all time. Bush, cartoonishly stupid, says sure.
That's the first half. The second half shows Cheney asserting his newfound power in the White House, making more and heavier decisions than the president. In the wake of 9/11, Cheney's moves became even more drastic and violent, as he spearheads decisions to invade Iraq and torture suspected terrorists.
McKay's penchant for gimmicks in Vice is incessant, using an array of devices to liven up Cheney's monotone lectures. When Cheney hears the words "absolute power," the movie cuts to a grainy clip of a lion attacking an antelope. Cheney and company go out to dinner, and the waiter lists menu items like "Guantanamo Bay" and "enhanced interrogation." There are politicians as game pieces to signify that, you know, politics is a game. There's Jesse Plemons as the movie's narrator, whose connection to Cheney is kept a secret until an utterly terrible reveal. There's a post-credits scene that made me want to throw my notebook at the screen.
The movie also fails to wholeheartedly indict Cheney. It almost seems like McKay thinks Cheney is kinda cool, all snarling speeches and bold power-plays. It focuses so much on Cheney's absolute power, and portrays Bush as such a clueless dolt, that it practically absolves the president of any wrongdoing.
For better or worse, Bale commits to his roles, and Vice is no exception. He gets Cheney's mannerisms and speech down, blending so well into the role that, under all the makeup, he's truly unrecognizable (but I won’t commend male actors for gaining significant weight for a role because it's unhealthy, unnecessary, and women aren't allowed to do it). Adams is good enough, though too good for her role as Lynne, which seesaws between doting wife and political go-getter. Carrell once again picks a role ill-suited for his unchangeably earnest demeanor.
Vice is a shallow and surface attempt at quirky analysis that not only fails to offer new or nuanced criticism of Cheney, but also serves as a warning sign for future political movies. If this is as good as it gets after ten-plus years of reflection on the Bush era, then the inevitable movies about Trump will be nothing short of an embarrassment.