Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons
The story of Dick Cheney (Bale), an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W. Bush (Rockwell), reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.
Following his success with The Big Short, Adam McKay returns to direct a film which takes a scathing look at another slice of modern history, this time with his attention on the rise to power of Dick Cheney and the role he played in the controversial “War on Terror”.
Getting the few positives out the way upfront, Vice is a film which is anchored by strong performances, particularly Christian Bale’s transformative turn as Cheney. It is testament to Bale’s skill that I was at times completely able to forget that it was him playing this part, and his voice, mannerisms and posture are absolutely impeccable. The ever-dependable Amy Adams shines with an admirable stoicism, simultaneously nailing that “sweet as apple pie” public face and her deplorable darker side. The usually flawless Rockwell is the weakest link of the three, opting for a performance which is mostly imitation, but there is still merit in his performance.
And therein end the positives! Vice is for the most part, patronising and unduly smug with a confusing tone that seems to simultaneously take a strong political stance, whilst also leaving things frustratingly grey. McKay’s usually slick style seems to constantly be at odds with the plot, which in itself can’t seem to decide whether it wants to parody, serious political drama or scathing satire. In short, it’s a bit of a mess.
The structure of the film itself is all over the place as well, flitting between past and present seemingly without much reason for doing so. Perhaps the most misguided thing about the film is the mid-credits “sting” which sloppily attempts to connect the dots to our current political climate, and rather than proving a point, it just comes across as a ham-fisted afterthought. “Ham-fisted” is in fact a pretty great good to sum up the entire film as it veers wildly between tones, styles, and narrative devices.
The inclusion of a narrator in films, particularly one that is seen on screen is a bit of a turn-off, and whilst played well by the always excellent Jesse Plemons, I felt like his presence was an unnecessary one; his true purpose only being apparent towards the end, by which point I had stopped caring.
Whilst it worked somewhat for the subject matter of The Big Short, this dumbed-down approach of storytelling in this film felt incredibly misguided. As it explained every single minute detail with an unearned air of self-importance, I had to fight back the urge to shout “Yes, we KNOW!” every couple of minutes. From the moment the film started, it felt like it was talking down to the audience, and that does not make for an enjoyable watching experience, no matter how great the performances might be.
I saw this movie so you don’t have to. If McKay’s niche is explaining every topic to an audience like we’re dumb as a rock, then I’m keeping those receipts because I am NOT buying it. A patronising, bloated, smug, and overbearing waste of time.