Director Adam McKay puts America to task once again by shining the spotlight upon one of the most prominent, yet hidden political figures in modern American history, Dick Cheney. Teaming up once again with Christian Bale who takes on full transformation as he made has made into an art form. Adopting the same formula as he had done for The Big Short by using a narrator, with rapid fire cuts of little side facts, mini biographies as to how Cheney rose to power and largely swindle the American people into a war with Iraq despite the evidence never being in place to justify an invasion. McKay depicts Cheney’s rise from obscurity mostly chronologically, as a drunk University drop out, who is giving the ultimatum by then girlfriend and eventual life partner Lynne (Amy Adams) to either shape up or ship out. Getting his act together, he finds himself becoming a Congress Man lackey for mentor Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) in the Nixon administration. Most curiously, Cheney doesn’t seem to show much interest in politics, nor what his politics are? More liking the cut of Rumsfeld jib than anything else. Under his stewardship, he is a quiet man who only gives Rumsfeld the answers he wants to hear.
Rising through the ranks to become chief of staff under the Gerald Ford administration, Cheney becomes a powerful influencer in the inner circle, having a gift for getting people to listen to him and bending their thinking. Even unearthing legal political loopholes that eventually grant him almost absolute power.
Harbouring higher political powers himself, when his daughter comes out as gay, his loyalties is tested between protecting his daughter from the scrutiny that his party attracts or carrying on with his own political career. He opts to protect his daughter and by doing so, surrenders his political ambitions and takes an executive role at Halliburton.
When George Bush Junior (Sam Rockwell) comes calling requesting Dick to be his running mate. Dick is hesitant, as is his wife. As he says, the Vice President is a nothing role. But when he sees how easy it is to manipulate Bush, Cheney agrees and sets out his chess pieces to really run things in the shadows.
Once again, McKay manages to boil down the essential key facts to unravel how those in power were able to get away with absolute power. Cheney was never going to come out looking good, but McKay does try to show a human side to him with his love and devotion to his family, as well as the pastries. Bale’s transformation is remarkable but the performance is fairly muted due to a lack of character focus. In part as the film declares, actual knowledge of Cheney is scarce and McKay’s focus more upon unfolding the events and dealings Cheney made to ensure the Iraq war went ahead. Furthermore, as scandalous Cheney’s actions were, he’s not too interesting a character for film, which doesn’t give Bale a lot to play with. Like Bale, Carell and Adams are equally convincing in their transformation. Which cannot be said the same for Sam Rockwell, who disappoints as George Bush. Failing to grasp his voice, mannerisms that is one of the films down points, one of the film’s lesser qualities.
Vice is no doubt going to feel the ire of the right and republicans, but arguably McKay’s attempt at humanising Cheney leaves the film slightly hamstrung, as his family life is a rather dull affair in comparison to what he was doing in Office. But Vice does achieve what it sets out to do, to leave you stunned, feeling incredulous and rather powerless as the decisions of a few greedy men lead to death and destruction, McKay taking an unapologetic stance and is right for doing so. McKay manages to entertain whilst opening people’s eyes and that is no easy feat.