Vice is a caustic, wildly unconventional biopic and dark comedy about the notoriously secretive, former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. It uses flashbacks to show how this gruff, heart attack-prone bureaucrat with a grinch-like sneer came to wield an unprecedented amount of power in President George Bush’s White House, perhaps more so than any other second-in-command in history. And it also makes its claim that Cheney’s actions have radically changed the world… and not for the better.
Writer/director Adam McKay trots out the same story-telling devices he used in The Big Short, his 2015 film about the 2008 global financial crisis which earned him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. It has cameo appearances, off the wall comic vignettes and both a mysterious narrator and Bale (as Cheney) directly addressing the audience. But what cleverly worked to explain complex economic theories doesn’t always work so well in Vice. Granted, some of the bits – the mid-movie end credits, Alfred Molina as a waiter rattling off Bush-era Gulf War atrocities as menu specials – are both biting and hilarious. But just as often – the Cheneys’ Shakespearean pillow talk, Tyler Perry’s stuntcasting as Colin Powell, and THAT ending – falls short, failing to fully succeed as either a comedy or an angry political story. Bale’s uncanny physical transformation is impressive, as is Sam Rockwell’s portrait of an insecure and not-so-bright President Bush, Steve Carell as a loathsome Donald Rumsfeld and Amy Adams as Cheney’s equally Machiavellian wife, Lynne. But after a while, all that vitriol grows exhausting.
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