A review of the Dick Cheney bio-pic “Vice”

Adam McKay stunned us with the “The Big Short” in which, as co-writer and director, he endeavoured to tell the complicated story of the sub-prime crisis in the USA economy in a virtuoso style. Now, as sole writer and director, he attempts the tell the incredible account of how Dick Cheney somehow became the most powerful Vice-President in American history with devastating consequences for the US and the world.

Again McKay deploys an idiosyncratic style in which he uses a whole panoply of cinematic tricks, including breaking the fourth wall, a false ending, and a narrator whose identity is only slowly revealed and really shouldn’t be any part of the movie. Such a scatter-gun approach does not always work, but it hits the target often enough to be both entertaining and informative in a manner which is both comedic and scary. By the time I saw it, the film had attracted 8 Academy Awards nominations.

There is a large cast with some terrific performances. None is better than an almost unrecognisable Christian Bale as the eponymous dark lord. It is not just that he looks utterly convincing, thanks to piling on 40 lb and having loads of prosthetics, but he even sounds like the guy with his gravelly voice and trademark pauses.

Other excellent portrayals include Amy Adams (Cheney’s wife Lynne), Sam Rockwell (George W Bush), and Steve Carrell (Donald Rumsfeld), while Alfred Molina has a delicious cameo role as a waiter offering Cheney and his chums a whole menu of devices to usurp power.

We even have a discussion of something called unitary executive theory which basically means that a US president can do just about anything he wants. A legal opinion asserting the validity of this principle is still in the records – but please don’t tell Donald Trump.

So “Vice” is uneven and not quite up there with “The Big Short” but, more seriously as a criticism, is it simply too polemical in the style of Michael Moore? At the end, McKay anticipates this charge and, in a brief scene visiting a focus group, he has a liberal arguing that it is all true. Don’t expect Cheney or anyone else to take McKay to the courts.


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