Vice (2018)

For years, satirists pin pointed Dick Cheney as the man behind George W. Bush, a man who was much too smart for the man running the country, he was the man often depicted as the grouchy old grandfather, or stern dad watching over his under achiever son and pulling the strings behind the scenes while junior basically had no idea and was wiser for not knowing, and “Vice” doesn’t shy away from that common message. “Vice” is an engrossing often pitch black comedy that is so much more complex than that now infamous gag. But Adam McKay makes it clear what kind of person Dick Cheney is from the minute we see him. Upon the bombings of 9/11, he’s swept away in to a safe room and decides to commit to swift political, consciously and visually keeping Bush oblivious to the scenarios unfolding.

A lot of “Vice” is committed to exploring Dick Cheney who is something of a sociopath with a hunger for power. He’s something of a mastermind who manages to obtain power without ever going to jail, and is allowed to undercut much of the laws involved with the constitution without ever being held accountable. Like every sociopath he’s a man who commits to heinous acts and rationalizes his acts by passing the buck on to others. He’s a man who was a loser in his enigmatic early life because he failed in college, he failed in college because he had a hard youth, his committed endless acts of corruption and crimes because we chose him.  In the end, America chose him and hey, he was just doing what he was assigned to do. Christian Bale is relatively lost in his performance as Dick Cheney, the former vice president to George W. Bush, who spent much of his political life rising to power, and inevitably becoming one of the most notorious men in America and possibly American history.

Bale’s take on Cheney is absolutely mesmerizing as he depicts a man who is pulled in to all kinds of directions and can never decide if he wants power because his lust for war, or perhaps because of his obligations to his overbearing wife. Maybe he tells himself that he has to own up to his debt to his wife Lynn by pursuing power and wealth by any means necessary. Whether or not that’s entirely true, Lynn Cheney is depicted as a woman who never directly tells Cheney to get power by any means necessary, but is never oblivious to the kind of games he plays to ensure he stays directly in power, even mixing and mingling with some of the most corrupt and wealthiest people in the world.  A story this extraordinary doesn’t lend itself well to a straight forward fluid narrative, thus McKay doesn’t attempt it. Instead much of “Vice” is about breaking the fourth wall, a conscious narrator with a mysterious connection to Cheney, and even a news reporter played by Naomi Watts, who jumps in to the film every so often to announce a new turning of the tide for Cheney and his rule.

McKay’s constant breaking of the narrative threatens to be tiresome at times, but thankfully “Cheney” never breaks momentum thanks to its relentless peaks behind the curtain. McKay allows us to be flies on the wall watching many of these men looking for every reason to undercut the constitution for the sake of obtaining power, and wealth, as well as engaging in an intellectual game of poker where someone eventually wins out, and others leave the table broke, and calling in favors. McKay derives top notch performances from his entire cast, from Amy Adams, and Steve Carell, right to Sam Rockwell who is almost unrecognizable as George W. Bush. Bush is depicted as merely a cog in Cheney’s meteoric rise to power, and in the end all we can do is look at a man who offers no apologies, only a passing of the buck.