September 11th 2001. As the second plane crashes into the side of the World Trade Center, Vice President Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) is whisked away by secret service staff. Reassembling in the White House war room, he surveys the anxious faces all around him. Cutting back to his past, Wyoming 1963, an alcoholic Dick Cheney is delivered a stark ultimatum by his ambitious wife Lynne (Amy Adams). It’s one that will mark the rest of his life and beyond.
Not just the charting of one man’s ascendancy but the silent smothering of a nation...
Adam Mckay, co-writer and director of the Oscar-winning ‘The Big Short’ is no stranger to complex tales. Given the secretive history of Dick Cheney and his unbelievable 11 year rise from drunk to youngest ever White House chief of staff, it is a convoluted one. Shrunk down into a comedy drama, ‘Vice’ is not just the charting of one man’s ascendancy but the silent smothering of a nation.
Offered the unappetising role of vice-president by an then unelected George W. Bush (in a spot-on rendition by Sam Rockwell), Cheney feigns disinterest. A largely symbolic position, Cheney wants a different kind of role for VP. Out of the spot-light and scrutiny that the top job brings, Cheney would like to help with more the mundane jobs such as… bureaucracy, military, energy, and foreign policy… in fact everything. Ever the cavalier, care-free Bush couldn’t be happier – and in this briquet moment, executive power is bequeathed by the toss of a chicken wing.
Played for laughs, ‘Vice’ is in fact a very broad comedy but it’s also an undeniably smart movie. It knows its target and it disingenuously knows its intentions too. Drawing you into a complicity of laughter, you marvel at how such a set of circumstances could come about from such hysterically absurd circumstances.
Bolstered by a mischievous, machiavellian turn by Steve Carrell as Donald Rumsfeld and a feisty performance from Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, Christian Bale’s Dick Cheney is suitably framed. Carrying excessive weight and equal prosthetics, Bale quickly disappears into his role leaving no trace of the Welsh actor behind. Wisely avoiding an impersonation, the weight and growing maniacal reach of Cheney’s influence is in what this character doesn’t react to. With silence perceived as strength, Bale has license to move around within the interpretation of his role, as Cheney did in his.
Irreverent, comic, tragic and chilling, ‘Vice’ is a movie which will under-cut your sense of security with a final act that will turn your guffaws to gasps – and this is where a thematic difference of opinion may polarise some audiences.
For whilst, many will bring their political allegiances intact from the car park to the multiplex, a life framed within a comedy (that is also the darkest of dramas) may not be to all tastes. Too crass in places, too veiled in others, some of the broadsides will fire over the heads of the intended whilst others will leave grimaces on the already-converted. In bucking the expectations of how far a drama can go and how robust a license comedy should enjoy, ‘Vice’ subverts both genres the same way that Cheney did to Capitol Hill – and in this respect ‘Vice’ does a better job than a straight drama ever could do.
Employing both the subtlest and broadest of strokes to present a complex man’s past in a condensed and accessible manner – ‘Vice’ uses its own “unity executive theory” to convey the facts. Begging the question as to whether a comedy is the best tool to take down both a historical injustice, ‘Vice’ counters its own bias with a post-credits scene that further salts the divide.
Like the birth of a new horror franchise, this is an origin story for a raft of decisions that has already fashioned the sequel we’re living in.