“Vice” is a wicked smart, fast-paced, acerbic rollercoaster of a satire, focusing on former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Widely disliked and intensely secretive, Cheney is not the first subject to come to mind for a campy political parody. But as director Adam McKay made the 2008 economic crisis a hysterical riot with “The Big Short,” he was prepared to step into another political realm with the former VP.
A non-chronological timeline of Cheney’s journey from uneducated drunkard to infamous politician is intercut by historical footage and snarky narration. The film stars Christian Bale as Cheney and Amy Adams as his wife Lynne, along with Steve Carell as Cheney’s abrasive mentor Donald Rumsfeld and Sam Rockwell as a bumbling George W. Bush.
Bale and Adams are phenomenal in their third film together, completely transforming themselves physically and emotionally for their respective roles. Bale is unrecognizable as the hefty Cheney, gaining forty pounds for the role and adopting every individual mannerism. This is not new for a chameleon like Bale, who lost 60 pounds for the “Machinist.” Adams also gained some weight and is outstanding as the power-hungry Lynne.
Since very little public information exists about Cheney’s life, McKay utilizes parody for certain scenes — the most notable being Cheney and Lynne’s Shakespearean style conversation regarding the position of vice president. In such instances, the film mocks its own existence, as no one can truly tell what happened in history besides those who lived it.
While some may find “Vice’s” haphazard, anxious pace and frequent intercuts between real footage, reenactment and parody distracting, it is arguably the perfect structure for the subject matter. Through legal intervention, Cheney was able to gain more power than any other vice president, changing the course of history with his decisions on Iraq and other monumental political choices.
“Vice” asserts that Trump’s power hungry demeanor and unpredictability are not so foreign to the American public, as Cheney isn't the most informed or balanced man himself. Perhaps, the film muses, he is evil incarnate.
The film is geared at a liberal audience, even poking fun at it’s own bias in a mock focus group scene. This allows it to forgo explanation of events, as it assumes the audience is already knowledgeable.
“Vice” received mixed reviews, with a current Rotten Tomatoes rating of 64 percent; however, many of 2018’s most controversial, inventive films have received lukewarm responses, such as “Vox Lux” and “Assassination Nation,” also a political satire.
All of these films tackle human nature with a sardonic, caustic wit frequently seen in films of the Trump era. In a media landscape ripe with exaggeration, there is no room for subtlety. “Vice” plays on the public’s hunger for aggrandizement and absolute power with the same yearning as Cheney.
“Vice” is a cautionary tale come too late. We voted for Cheney. We voted for Trump. We’re paying for the result.