When I first saw The Big Short, I was a little confused by director Adam McKay’s style. He frequently interrupted conventional narrative by breaking the fourth wall with commentary, flashbacks, alternative outcomes, and, sometimes, colorful charts and graphs. He dials back these flourishes a little in his latest movie, Vice, and it’s much more tolerable. Then again, the subject matter of the life of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) is much more straightforward (but no less frustrating) than that of the home mortgage market.
What I admire most about Vice is that it could so easily have demonized Cheney, but instead treats him fairly as a human being. This is best exemplified by his reaction to learning his daughter, Mary (Allison Pill) is gay during the 2004 presidential election. Above all, he’s portrayed as a family man, never cutting off his support of her, even when encouraged to do so. In fact, it’s his desire for approval from his wife, Lynne (Amy Adams) that motivates him, at least in the beginning.
This is not to say Vice doesn’t make fun of Cheney. It’s just more subtle, the comedy and satire arising from the situations as much as the person. As shrewd, opportunistic and calculating as he was during his political career, you almost can’t blame Cheney for succeeding. The movie would have us believe that he never wanted to be Vice President, but was convinced by George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) to be his running mate. Further, he agreed to do it because he realized he could wield more power in that role than he could as President, an office that always eluded him.
Bale is amazing as Cheney. The resemblance is uncanny with no revealing indication of makeup effects to take you out of the movie. It’s not caricature, either. It sounds cliché, but Bale is Chaney. I’ll be honest, I never saw last year’s Darkest Hour, but Bale seems more natural and organic than Oscar-winner Gary Oldman did in the trailers for that film. I hope Academy voters don’t overlook Bale as just another impersonation and neglect recognizing him based simply on who won last year.
Likewise, I hope McKay is not overlooked for awards as writer, as well as director. Rising through Hollywood ranks beginning with Saturday Night Live and then a prolific partnership with Will Ferrell, McKay has matured into a brilliant creative force. His roots in broad comedy remain evident, but he’s discovered a unique way to deliver a message that, on the surface may be political, but when you dig deeper is an indictment of what we collectively allow to happen and bring upon ourselves in this country.
Rockwell’s performance as Bush, as well as Steve Carell’s as Donald Rumsfeld, are closer to being cartoonish. However, they’re two of whom I would consider the more colorful characters from that era of the presidency, so they’re a delight to watch. Two and a half hours pass quickly in Vice, an educational and entertaining movie that keeps you laughing, but will definitely make its point clear. Other movies with the same goals tend to lean more heavily on individual aspects that make them suspicious. This one is a near perfect blend. It’s my favorite film of the year.