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Vice – Movie Review

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Vice – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy eOne Films

Vice Presidents aren’t normally the subjects of biopics, because the job isn’t nearly as glamorous or as flashy as the Commander in Chief. However, Dick Cheney represented an imposing figure who received as many headlines as George W. Bush did. In depicting his life, Adam McKay turns Vice into both a traditional biopic and one that plays with the conventions of the format. Aided by a solid cast of trusted actors, Vice is a breezy and bitingly funny film that depicts Cheney’s many flaws, although some may brisk at how it seeks to show the controversial Halliburton CEO and former Chief of Staff.

McKay takes us through Cheney’s life, never losing a beat, and continually finding new topics to grab our attention. A narration by Jesse Plemons explains just enough to understand the context and moves the narrative along at a good pace. What is immediately striking about Vice is how closely Christian Bale resembles Cheney. A large reason for this is due to the makeup team, led by Greg Cannom, but Bale also nails the posture and voice of Cheney, mostly done through clenching teeth. Particularly noteworthy is Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, brilliantly portraying both her support and occasional impatience with her husband. Bale and Adams make for a believable couple through the decades.

McKay makes the curious decision to depict Dick Cheney as a family man. Much as people are loathe to admit it, even politicians like Cheney have the ability to maintain a friendly relationship with those close to them. McKay allows the audience to understand why his daughters look up to him, although he does address the hypocrisy of Cheney supporting his lesbian daughter Mary and working for an administration firmly against same-sex marriage. However, the troubles caused by his political powers and the way he manipulated the system are absolutely shown. While Sam Rockwell appears as George W. Bush, he ends up having less than ten minutes of the film, which is quite fitting in many respects.

The structure of Vice also plays a role in its success and elevates the satirical humour. McKay takes a meta-approach and is self-aware about the pitfalls many biopics, especially political ones, can fall into. There is a clever fantasy scene depicting Cheney’s team in a restaurant and McKay also mocks traditional biopic endings at one point. There is never a moment where Vice meanders and the film spends enough time on each presidential power Cheney was involved with, before jumping to the next part of his life. Curiously, Vice only briefly mentions Halliburton, likely due to his time as Vice President being more interesting. Cannom’s aforementioned makeup especially deserves to be mentioned. Aging makeup is hard to pull off, but Cannom believably shows the Cheneys and Donald Rumsfeld aging through the years, with the proper amount of liver spots and wrinkles.

Vice does take a hard look at Dick Cheney and his rise to power, while also attempting to create a three-dimensional portrait of the man. Making him a complete monster would have just resulted in a hatchet job and that doesn’t appear to be Adam McKay’s intent. He seems more interested in showing how this man ended up pulling the strings of quite a few presidential administrations with most of us not even noticing. Vice is a clever look at Dick Cheney’s life and kudos should also go to the cast for believably playing the various roles whose actions are still all too familiar to those who lived through the preceding decade.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison