Review: VICE Is A Funny Political Biopic

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Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s VICE, an Annapurna Pictures release. Credit : Annapurna Pictures 2018 © Annapurna Pictures, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Vice is the newest film from director Adam McKay (The Big Short). The movie tells the story of Dick Cheney, who as Vice President under George W. Bush affected the political landscape in ways that are still in effect today. It was nominated for six Golden Globe awards, receiving the most nods of any film of 2018.

In the same style as movies such as The Big Short and The Wolf of Wall Street, this film prevents what is a very serious political event in a comedic and satirical light. It’s often witty, and sometimes even hilarious, although it never quite had the bite of the aforementioned movies. Instead of feeling like it is trying to make a deep political statement, the film feels simply like is attacking the people involved.

That being said, the movie does a quite good job of building the characters with nuance and complexity. Although the film is very obviously poking fun at Cheney’s actions, it also presents him as a Byronic hero that caused his own demise. There is always an element of ambiguity as to whether or not the audience is actually supposed to like Cheney, mirroring the fluctuating opinion of him in the eyes of the American public.

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Sam Rockwell (left) as George W. Bush and Christian Bale (right) as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s VICE, an Annapurna Pictures release. Credit : Matt Kennedy / Annapurna Pictures
2018 © Annapurna Pictures, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Much like he did in The Big Short, McKay uses visual storytelling and symbolism to further develop the message of the movie. For the most part, they are highly effective, as McKay managed to create some mind-blowing comparisons. However, some of them were duds, not having the resonance that was intended. These ineffective ones do not detract from the film’s message as a whole, though.

The script also uses a framing device similar to that of The Big Short, in which an omnipresent narrator describes the events of the story and pauses the story to explain them in simpler terms to the audience. However, this isn’t nearly as effective. For one, it isn’t nearly consistent enough. The narration drops in and out frequently, leaving long stretches of the movie without any narration and brief lengths with heavy narration. And when the narrator’s role in the story is revealed, it is very frustrating.

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(From L to R) Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, Christian Bale as Dick Cheney, Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, and Andrea Wright as Laura Busch in Adam McKay’s VICE, an Annapurna Pictures release. Credit : Matt Kennedy / Annapurna Pictures
2018 © Annapurna Pictures, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The editing of the film did not have a lot of polish, either. This genre is typically a little messy, but there were moments in this movie that felt outright sloppy. Some of the montages and juxtaposition were too rough to work. That being said, the film utilizes parallel editing a few times, and it is extremely effective in each case.

The highlight of the movie, though, is its performances. Christian Bale gives one of the best performances in his career as Dick Cheney. He transforms into the character, nailing Cheney’s mannerisms and personality. The makeup used to make him look like Cheney is great too. Sam Rockwell’s performance as George W. Bush is also excellent. He is basically doing one of the best impressions you have ever seen, and given the comedic tone of the film, it absolutely works.

Overall, despite the fact that it lacks the polish and bite of The Big Short, Vice is still a great movie from Adam McKay. It is often hilarious, and features some of the best performances of the year.

Vice opens in theaters December 25.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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