Who would have thought the director of Anchorman would go on to direct not one (The Big Short) but two incredibly thorough and consumable dives into the worst of American politics.
This true story follows the life of the Washington DC Vice President of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and his secretive dealings that escalated into the recent war in Iraq, and the current strife of left and right wing politics in America.
With Academy Award season coming up, Vice checks off a lot of boxes for critics, but it also delivers hard truths in a fashion easily read by general audiences. Most eye-catching indeed, is Christian Bale’s transformative performance as Dick Cheney, a casting call so unexpected yet absolutely incredible.
The film’s narrative begins juxtaposing a drunk-driving Cheney in 1963, and a Vice President wielding the final word of Government as aircraft plunge into the World Trade Center in 2001. Much like director Adam McKay’s other powerfully fuelled political message movie The Big Short, this film is crammed with clever uses of editing and metaphorical satire, which will both gut-punch you, but also have you unintentionally face-palm in public more than you thought possible.
It is a grim subject matter, perhaps because of how shadowed and hidden all of it was: a lot of the politics and legislation enacted were behind closed doors, by selfish individuals who saw an opportunity to become the most powerful people in the world. The film does not sugarcoat the facts, regardless of the comedy it regularly uses. It wants you to know the facts, and why wouldn’t it? In this day and age of “fake news”, something the film eludes to with the Bush Administration.
Only… Cheney was actually intelligent with it. Dangerously so.
To think there are audience members legally seeing this film now who weren’t alive during the 9/11 attacks makes me feel very old. But as not-politically-minded as I am/was, I do remember President Bush as something of a nothing President before that fateful day, and afterwards… everything got worse. The film uses archive footage from this time; cleverly reproducing history with a mixture of the made-up actors, and the real people. This… was still gut-wrenching, even now. Perhaps with the starkness of the reality behind it, and the callous opportunists who we are following, and where it all leads to driving it home…
Of course, with all politically driven films, some will cry it is liberal propaganda, left-wing fantasy. What is hilarious though, is the film eventually shows it is well aware of this particular reaction.
American politics aside, the film is an incredible production. The cast are both unorthodox for such an endeavour but utterly convincing. From heavy hitters such as Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Sam Rockwell, to Tyler Perry. Tyler Perry, as Colin Powell. The one straight-and-honest-man, Colin Powell, played by a man who’s IMDB debut as an actor was in drag in Diary of a Mad Black Woman.
But it works! He was great as Powell. The make-up work on all of the actors and actresses in this film is perhaps what will get the most seats sold; Bale vanishes into the character, especially as older Cheney. But while the scary levels of method-acting Bale enforces on himself might not carry with the others, they are all just as compelling in their roles. Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush is perhaps requires the most adjustment (Rockwell’s face shape is just a little too narrow) but the performance is absolutely spot on.
Much like The Big Short, it is Adam McKay’s method of using metaphor, satire and word play to deliver ghastly truths that really sell the film. While it is no Margot Robbie in a bathtub this time, Vice‘s most memorable scene involves our group of fat cat politicians sitting in a restaurant, being read a menu on all the war time torture atrocities they were allowed to enact because “why not”. It is a hideous, but masterfully crafted moment.
Of course, there are much lighter moments; McKay is no political sledgehammer, and there are genuine laughs scattered throughout (mostly at the expense of the characters who we loathe) especially that one scene that refers to Shakespeare…
It is a film that tells all, and uses everything at its disposal to do it. It might feel loaded with gimmicks, tricks, and feints, but it is hard to imagine a story as cold and grey as this being told in any other way. Even then, the film does leave you with an intense, uncomfortable stare down match with a man you genuinely don’t understand…
It is scary to think that such films, constructed with investigation and fact checking of events some 15 years ago, will be shunned and ignored as political agenda… while the current world we live in is a clear downward spiral of what has happened. Political structures feel like slow moving causes and effects, and the public aren’t aware of it until it is years into the past. For this film, Cheney is portrayed as a man who had mastered that; the waiting, the patience, and the knowledge of when to reel people in…
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