Prefaced with text that Dick Cheney is an extremely secretive man, and that they did ‘their fucking best’, Vice provides an entertaining if not flawed look at the rise of Dick Cheney, presenting the all facts it can and adding fiction where needed. Appropriately described as a man who wielded a supreme amount of power while being out of public scrutiny for the most part, Dick Cheney was a ruthless conservative and his win-at-all-costs mentality is well-depicted in this informative film, where his cold attitude to politics rubs off on his family and eventually the world.
The film begins within the president’s bunker with appropriately frenetic camerawork as the tragic events of 9/11 unfold; a clever if not easy way to hook viewers in from the start. It is soon rewound to Cheney’s younger years. These scenes are brief but important as they establish that he wasn’t aiming for politics as a young man. He indulged in booze, was thrown into the drunk tank more than once and worked as an unskilled labourer. Losing patience, his wife Lynne urges him to do something meaningful with his life, something that will pay the bills, as he currently works a risky job for little pay and Lynne is wondering if she is with the right man.
Unfortunately, and importantly, we don’t see what sparks his interest in politics other than his need to provide for his family. It is a jarring transition from the previous sequences, as he sits in a giant hall with fellow young hopefuls who are in a sense competing to become an intern within the White House. Cheney hears economic adviser to the president Donald Rumsfeld give a short speech, likes what he hears, and immediately aspires to become a politician like him despite his ignorance at the time regarding politics. He wins the opportunity to work as an intern, under Rumsfeld himself.
It doesn’t take long for Rumsfeld to see the potential in young Cheney, whose attitude seems perfect for high-stakes politics, where the right thing to do often doesn’t correlate with what would be morally right. Rumsfeld shows him what is what around the White House and Cheney begins to realise the true extent of the power that can be wielded, and more importantly, what he could do with it.
After Nixon resigns from the presidency amidst the Watergate fiasco, the film runs through the different positions Cheney held as he slowly moves up the ladder towards presidency, but doesn’t explain the relevance. Of course he eventually becomes Vice President as he decides Bush is trying to impress his father and landed the job due to his family more than his brains. As de facto leader then, he lays out the cards as to what exactly will happen next. These scenes arguably could have been trimmed as not all the information relayed is of importance to Cheney’s rise and is a little too detailed considering this.
When drafting the Patriot act (oddly never referred to by name), a scene is presented in a restaurant where the forever likeable Alfred Molina plays a friendly waiter asking the dinner guests (Cheney, Rumsfeld etc) what important cogs they would like to be a part of the act, as if they are specials on a menu. That everything discussed here is incredibly important to not just the film, but the US today, causes the scene to feel out of place, to put it lightly. It may seem like a creative idea, perhaps it is, but it is pointless in this situation as it sucks away the atmosphere of their plotting within the White House by replacing it with a gimmicky scene. And this isn’t the only gimmick to be found. One extreme example is somewhere around the middle of the film and while it may have felt original and amusing to McKay, it comes off as thoroughly moronic and laughable in all the wrong ways. The same can be said for an idiotic mid-credits scene, so terrible, so cringe-worthy that you will want to hit someone.
Amidst the onslaught of information, political information at that, the attempted comedic moments drag the film down, as the way they are presented don’t work within a story such as this. It feels as if McKay is trying far too hard to insert humour with incredibly random execution, as intended humourous moments catch the viewer off guard and subsequently strip important scenes of their power. They are all randomly placed and unexpected, and rarely if ever fit within the tone of the scene.
The major problems with Vice are not only these failed attempts at humour, it is the editing paired with constant over-emphasis of metaphors. The film often cuts to an entirely new shot to illustrate a metaphor that has just been laid out, as if the audience is deaf and/or stupid. One example of this is when Cheney’s elaborate plans are at one point aptly described as building a delicate stack of cups and saucers. The film then cuts to a literal stack of cups and saucers for a second or two, before cutting back to the original scene. Why McKay felt these condescending shots as a necessity is a good question. One in particular is truly atrocious. Other minor quibbles with the script are spread throughout, many coming from his wife, but this is surely hard to avoid when making a film based on a true story.
On the positive side of things, Bale’s portrayal of Cheney is fantastic (though it must be said that half the credit must go to the make-up department) and certainly not flattering. However, given his actions while in the White House, it must take a sociopath to view Cheney in any sort of positive light. The film is obviously and intentionally biased, depicting Cheney as a cold, power-hungry and uncaring man, apart from his family. There are no attempts to be objective here: the film presents the facts, and the facts tell a story of a bad person.
When winning the Golden Globe award, Christian Bale thanked Satan for inspiration, and who could argue?
As mentioned, Bale’s illustration of Chaney is very well realised, though while Chaney does have a throaty voice, it certainly isn’t as deep as the Batman-like voice Bale uses for most of the film. It must be said though that it does add to the ominous nature that gradually envelops the character. The gradual aging of Cheney, both by him gaining wait and later the make up department, is also extremely well played by Bale as the man becomes increasingly ruthless.
Steve Carrell again shows his dramatic chops and is forever believable as Rumsfeld, Cheney’s first advisor, his friend, and eventually one of his partners in crime. His comic background also shines through as he constantly makes for an interesting character with a big personality and quirky sense of humour. The rest of the cast are terrific, especially Sam Rockwell as a blind George W. Bush who doesn’t blink when Cheney refers to Military and Foreign Policy as ‘mundane’, as well as Amy Adams as Cheney’s wife who herself develops a political attitude that almost competes with her husband’s. She is certainly convincing in this regard.
No matter your political beliefs, this is an enjoyable despite its many missteps. Despite this, it must be seen despite the imperfections, if only for the fun and incredibly accurate depiction of a Vice President who ended his career with the lowest approvement poll level in US history at 13%. Christian Bale’s reverse-Machinist effort is something to behold, and the story of this despicable man is one that needed to be told. However, it is a shame that a potentially fantastic movie is rendered simply average by poorly placed use of comedy, gimmicks, and the unneeded, often condescending ADD-riddled editing.
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